BIOTIC Species Information for Littorina littorea
Researched byAngus Jackson Data supplied byMarLIN
Refereed byDr David Reid
Scientific nameLittorina littorea Common nameCommon periwinkle
MCS CodeW296 Recent SynonymsNone

PhylumMollusca Subphylum
Superclass ClassGastropoda
SubclassProsobranchia OrderMesogastropoda
Suborder FamilyLittorinidae
GenusLittorina Specieslittorea

Additional InformationAlso commonly known as the 'edible periwinkle'. Young animals with spiral ridges may be confused with Littorina saxatilis. During the breeding season males are easily distinguished by the presence of a penis on the right hand side of the body.
The taxonomy of the Gastropoda has been recently revised (see Ponder & Lindberg 1997, and Taylor 1996). Ponder & Lindberg (1997) suggest that Mesogastropoda should be included in a monophyletic clade, the Caenogastropoda. See Reid (1996) for a comprehensive review of the systematics and evolution of Littorina littorea.
Taxonomy References Howson & Picton, 1997, Hayward et al., 1996, Campbell, 1994, Hayward & Ryland, 1995b, Graham, 1971, Fish & Fish, 1996, Rutherford, Web pages, Rosso, 1998, Fox, 1994(b), Hayes, 1926, Ponder & Lindberg, 1997, Taylor, 1996, Reid, 1996,
General Biology
Growth formTurbinate
Feeding methodHerbivore
Environmental positionEpifaunal
Typical food typesA range of fine green, brown and red algae, including Ulva lactuca, Ulva spp., Cladophora spp. and Ectocarpus spp. HabitFree living
BioturbatorNot relevant FlexibilityNone (< 10 degrees)
FragilityRobust SizeSmall-medium(3-10cm)
HeightInsufficient information Growth Rate0.065-0.097 mm/day
Adult dispersal potential100-1000m DependencyIndependent
General Biology Additional InformationSize and growth rate measurements apply to shell height. Most work suggests that maturity is reached at between 10-12mm shell height. Littorina littorea has various biochemical adaptations that allow the stressful intertidal habitat to be exploited. The species tends to aggregate and form clusters in areas that are more favourable for them, such as rock pools, rather than drier areas. Males are believed to mature earlier than females but females mature at a smaller size. Animals are more active when submerged due to the lower cost of moving on mucus when under water.
Biology References Hayward et al., 1996, Campbell, 1994, Hayward & Ryland, 1995b, Fish & Fish, 1996, Newell, 1958, Fish, 1972, Fretter & Graham, 1994, Erlandsson & Johannesson, 1992, Rutherford, Web pages, Fox, 1994(b), Davies & Beckwith, 1999, Yamada, 1987, Gardner & Thomas, 1987, Erlandsson & Kostylev, 1995,
Distribution and Habitat
Distribution in Britain & IrelandFound on all British coasts, though rare or absent in the Isles of Scilly and Channel Isles.
Global distributionDistributed from northern Spain to the White Sea (northern Russia).
Biogeographic rangeNot researched Depth range60 m
MigratorySeasonal (environment)   
Distribution Additional Information
  • The species is found most commonly on the lower shore and shallow subtidal but in ideal conditions may be found up to the high tide line. However, the lower limit is poorly defined and will depend on factors such as predation, latitude etc. Therefore, the species may be found in the infra- and circalittoral zones. However, in deeper water the species is only found as isolated individuals in very low densities.
  • At least in northern Britain Littorina littorea migrates down shore as temperatures fall in autumn (to reduce exposure to sub-zero temperatures) and up shore as temperatures rise in spring; migration depends on local winter temperatures. When exposed to the air, the species usually remains inactive unless conditions are very moist.

Substratum preferencesBedrock
Large to very large boulders
Small boulders
Gravel / shingle
Muddy gravel
Sandy mud
Muddy sand
Salt marsh
Physiographic preferencesOpen coast
Biological zoneUpper Eulittoral
Mid Eulittoral
Lower Eulittoral
Sublittoral Fringe
Wave exposureModerately Exposed
Very Sheltered
Extremely Sheltered
Ultra Sheltered
Tidal stream strength/Water flowStrong (3-6 kn)
Moderately Strong (1-3 kn)
Weak (<1 kn)
Very Weak (negligible)
SalinityVariable (18-40 psu)
Reduced (18-30 psu)
Full (30-40 psu)
Habitat Preferences Additional Information
Distribution References Hayward et al., 1996, Campbell, 1994, Hayward & Ryland, 1995b, Graham, 1971, Fish & Fish, 1996, Newell, 1958, Fish, 1972, Fretter & Graham, 1994, Rutherford, Web pages, Gendron, 1977, Gardner & Thomas, 1987,
Reproduction/Life History
Reproductive typeGonochoristic
Developmental mechanismPlanktotrophic
Reproductive SeasonFebruary to June Reproductive LocationWater column
Reproductive frequencyAnnual episodic Regeneration potential No
Life span6-10 years Age at reproductive maturity<1 year
Generation time3-5 years FecundityUp to 100,000 for large females
Egg/propagule sizeEgg capsules ca 1 mm across Fertilization typeInternal
Larval/Juvenile dispersal potential>10km Larval settlement periodInsufficient information
Duration of larval stage11-30 days   
Reproduction Preferences Additional InformationThis species can breed throughout the year but the length and timing of the breeding period are extremely dependent on climatic conditions. Also, estuaries provide a more nutritious environment than the open coast (Fish, 1972). Sexes are separate, and fertilisation is internal. Littorina littorea sheds egg capsules directly into the sea. Egg capsules are about 1mm across and each biconvex capsule can contain up to nine eggs but normally there are only two or three eggs per capsule. Egg release is synchronized with spring tides. In estuaries the population matures earlier in the year and maximum spawning occurs in January. Fecundity value is up to 100,000 for a large female (27mm shell height) per year. Eggs are released on several separate occasions. Female fecundity increases with size. Larval settling time or pelagic phase can be up to six weeks. Males prefer to breed with larger, more fecund females. Parasitism by trematodes may cause sterility.
Reproduction References Hayward et al., 1996, Fish & Fish, 1996, Fish, 1972, Fretter & Graham, 1994, Newell & Newell, 1977, Erlandsson & Johannesson, 1992, MBA, 1957, Rutherford, Web pages, Hughes & Roberts, 1980,
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