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

Common pelican's foot (Aporrhais pespelecani)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.



A gastropod with a tall slender shell with a distinct pointed apex. The outside of the shell is sandy in colour and the inside is pearly white. The outer lip and the edge of the shell opening are darker in colour. The shell can be up to 4.5 cm tall (measured from the tip of the spire to tip of fifth lobe) and 3 cm wide (measured to edge of outer lip). In mature shells the aperture (shell opening) is dominated by the outer lip, that expands into a plate shape like the webbed foot of a bird. The outer lip of the aperture fans out into five bluntly rounded points, of which the first is fused to and extends half way along the length of the spire. Lobes 2-4 form points on the expansion, the fifth projects from the base and curves slightly towards the shell opening. The shell consists of up to 8-10 whorls which have thick knobs and finer spinal ridges. The last whorl occupies about half of the shells height. The snails body has a long tapering snout with tentacles each with a basal eye. The foot is shield shaped and narrow with a point at the posterior end. The flesh is mainly white with yellow flecks on the snout and tentacles.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Recorded from various locations around the British Isles.

Global distribution

Recorded from northern Norway and Iceland to the Mediterranean.


Sublittoral only, common on mud and muddy sand to offshore depths of 180 m.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • The thick margin around the shell fans out into five bluntly rounded points, resembling the webbed foot of a bird.
  • Tall spire with up to 10 whorls which posses thick knobs and finer spiral ridges.
  • Shell glossy and cream or sandy in colour, often with a purplish stain on the back of the last whorl.
  • The outer lip and the edge of the shell opening are darker in colour.
  • Inside surfaces are pearly white.
  • Up to 45 mm tall and 30 mm wide.

Additional information

The sipunculid Phascolion strombi sometimes inhabits empty shells of Aporrhais (Fish & Fish, 1996).

Listed by

- none -

Further information sources

Search on:


  1. Fish, J.D. & Fish, S., 1996. A student's guide to the seashore. Cambridge: Cambridge 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. JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee), 1999. Marine Environment Resource Mapping And Information Database (MERMAID): Marine Nature Conservation Review Survey Database. [on-line]

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

  8. Picton, B.E. & Costello, M.J., 1998. BioMar biotope viewer: a guide to marine habitats, fauna and flora of Britain and Ireland. [CD-ROM] Environmental Sciences Unit, Trinity College, Dublin.

  9. Thorson, G., 1946. Reproduction and larval development of Danish marine bottom invertebrates, with special reference to the planktonic larvae in the Sound (Øresund). Meddelelser fra Kommissionen for Danmarks Fiskeri- Og Havundersögelser, Serie: Plankton, 4, 1-523.


This review can be cited as:

Heath, T.A. 2008. Aporrhais pespelecani Common pelican's foot. 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 23-09-2018]. Available from:

Last Updated: 17/04/2008