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

Wrinkled rock borer (Hiatella arctica)

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



The shell is thick and can grow up to 3 or 4 cm in length. The shell is overall oblong in shape but highly irregular with no two specimens being alike. Dull white in colour with a yellow-brown periostracum that has a coarse texture. Two distinct ridges extend posteriorly from the beak on each valve. In juveniles, the ridges posses short spines that are often worn away in older specimens. The shell is sculptured with thick concentric ridges. The inside of the shell is white.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Common all around Britain and Ireland.

Global distribution

This species is widely distributed, from the Arctic south to the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Pacific Ocean.


This species attaches by thread-like hairs in holes, crevices or algal holdfasts. It often bores into soft rock and shells. Found on the lower shore and down to about 50 m in depth.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Rarely more than 4 cm in length.
  • White in colour with a yellow brown periostracum.
  • Rough in texture.
  • Thick, irregular ridges.
  • One short cardinal tooth in the right valve and two on the left and often worn away in older shells.
  • The posterior adductor muscle scar is slightly larger than the anterior scar but both are rounded.
  • The hinge line is undulating.
  • The pallial line is not continuous but made up of separate muscle scars.

Additional information

This species is a suspension feeder, catching particles of food as it passes. The type of substratum selected by juveniles determines whether they become burrowers or nestlers. Those settling on hard rock will attach by thread-like hairs and become nestlers while juveniles settling on soft rock become burrowers. The adults are able to bore into rock by mechanical abrasion using the valves of the shell. The initial penetration of the rock by juveniles may involve chemical as well as mechanical means.

Listed by

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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. Christensen, J.M., 1980. Seashells. Bivalves of the British and Northern European Seas. Revised and adapted by Peter S. Dance. Hamondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd.

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

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

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

  6. 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.]

  7. JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee), 1999. Marine Environment Resource Mapping And Information Database (MERMAID): Marine Nature Conservation Review Survey Database. [on-line]

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

  9. Tebble, N., 1966. British Bivalve Seashells. A Handbook for Identification, 2nd ed. Edinburgh: British Museum (Natural History), Her Majesty's Stationary Office.


This review can be cited as:

Carter, M.C. 2003. Hiatella arctica Wrinkled rock borer. 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 24-09-2018]. Available from:

Last Updated: 10/09/2003