information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

Red whelk (Neptunea antiqua)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.
Only coastal and marine records shown



A tall spired whelk, with 7 or 8 whorls, that normally grows to 10 cm long and 5 cm in width. The body whorl comprises about ¾ of the total height and the whorls are slightly convex, giving a stepped effect and ornamented with fine ridges following the spirals. The aperture is large and oval and where the lips meet at the shell base there is a canal for the siphon to emerge when the whelk is active.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Locally common off the coasts of north Britain.

Global distribution

Widely distributed in northwest Europe from Biscay to the Arctic.


Occurs sublittorally from 15-1200 m, mainly on soft substrata. Empty shells are often found on the shore.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Large spired shell, with 7/8 whorls that are stepped.
  • Normally up to 10 cm long, 5 cm in width, occasionally larger.
  • Bottom whorl comprises about ¾ of the shell height.
  • Fine concentric ridges on whorls.
  • Whitish in colour, sometimes reddish, usually more heavily pigmented around the aperture.
  • Aperture lips meet at a siphonal canal.

Additional information

Neptunea antiqua closely resembles Buccinum undatum, the common whelk. They can be separated by the fact that Buccinum undatum has vertical as well as concentric ridges on the whorls. The common whelk is edible but the red whelk is not (Hayward et al, 1996). The distribution and abundance of Neptunea antiqua may be reduced in Britain as a result of seawater warming.

Listed by

- none -

Further information sources

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  1. Bruce, J.R., Colman, J.S. & Jones, N.S., 1963. Marine fauna of the Isle of Man. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

  2. Graham, A., 1988. Molluscs: prosobranchs and pyramellid gastropods (2nd ed.). Leiden: E.J. Brill/Dr W. Backhuys. [Synopses of the British Fauna No. 2]

  3. Hayward, P., Nelson-Smith, T. & Shields, C. 1996. Collins pocket guide. Sea shore of Britain and northern Europe. London: HarperCollins.

  4. Hayward, P.J. & Ryland, J.S. (ed.) 1995b. Handbook of the marine fauna of North-West Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  5. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  6. National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Atlas website. Available from:  Accessed 01 April 2017


This review can be cited as:

Avant, P. 2003. Neptunea antiqua Red whelk. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 18-08-2018]. Available from:

Last Updated: 30/01/2003