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

Oyster drill (Ocenebra erinaceus)

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



Shell up to 5 cm long and 2.5 cm in breadth with sharply pointed apex and 8 tumid whorls. Siphonal canal short, open in juveniles but closed by a flat growth of shelly material in mature shells. Outer lip thin and crenulate in juveniles, thick and coarsely denticulate in older specimens. Ridges across whorls (costae) well spaced, 7-8 on last whorl. Aperture oval. Last whorl with 8-9 spiral ridges. Shell yellowish or white in colour, often with brown markings, especially on costae and spiral ridges. Flesh yellow or cream with white markings. Distinct egg capsules are a flattened vase shape and layed in clumps on stones or shells.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Occurs predominantly on west and south-west coasts of Britain and is also present in Ireland.

Global distribution

Ocenebra erinacea is a southern species that extends from the British Isles to the Mediterranean, Madeira and the Azores.


Predominantly sublittoral, occurring on rocks and under stones to depths of 150 m, but may often be found on the lower parts of sheltered rocky shores in the summer.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Tall, angulated spire.
  • Whorls with coarse sculpture of costae and spiral ridges.
  • Sutures deep.
  • Siphonal canal closed to form a tube in older animals.
  • Growth lines resembling delicate, upraised arch-like structures occur everywhere on shell.
  • Hypobranchial gland produces a purple secretion.

Additional information

In populations subject to high tributyltin (TBT) pollution, female Ocenebra erinacea exhibit a characteristic malformation of the oviduct as an effect of advanced imposex.

Listed by

- none -

Further information sources

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  1. Fish, J.D. & Fish, S., 1996. A student's guide to the seashore. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  2. Gibbs, P.E. & Bryan, G.W., 1987. TBT paints and the demise of the dogwhelk, Nucella lapillus (Gastropoda). In Oceans' 87 Proceedings, Volume 4: International Organotin Symposium, pp. 1482-1487.

  3. Gibbs, P.E., 1996. Oviduct malformation as a sterilising effect of tributyltin (TBT)-induced imposex in Ocenebra erinacea (Gastropoda: Muricidae) Journal of Molluscan Studies, 62, 403-413

  4. Graham, A., 1971. British Prosobranchs. London: Academic Press.[Synopses of the British Fauna, no. 2.]

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

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

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

  8. Hiscock, K., Southward, A., Tittley, I., Jory, A. & Hawkins, S., 2001. The impact of climate change on subtidal and intertidal benthic species in Scotland. Scottish National Heritage Research, Survey and Monitoring Report , no. 182., Edinburgh: Scottish National Heritage

  9. 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.]

  10. McMillan, N.F., 1968. British Shells. London: Frederick Warne & Co Ltd.


This review can be cited as:

Skewes, M. 2005. Ocenebra erinaceus Oyster drill. 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: 04/07/2005