Busycon Whelks
A fossil shell of Busycon contrarium
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Gastropoda
(unranked): clade Caenogastropoda
clade Hypsogastropoda
clade Neogastropoda
Superfamily: Buccinoidea
Family: Busyconidae
Genus: Busycon
Röding, 1798
Type species
Busycon muricatum Röding, 1798

See text


Fulgur Montfort, 1810

Busycon is a genus of very large edible sea snails, marine gastropod mollusks in the family Busyconidae. These snails are commonly known in the United States as whelks or Busycon whelks. Less commonly they are loosely, and somewhat misleadingly, called "conchs".[1]

Busycon comes from the Greek bousykon meaning large fig, from bous meaning cow and sykon meaning fig.[2]

Shell description

Shells of species in this genus can grow to a length of 40 cm. They all have a long siphonal canal.

The shells are generally a solid cream, light grey or tan in color, however the shell of Busycon perversum is marked with brown and white streaks.

The shell of individuals can sometimes vary quite widely in coloration and sculpture.

The lightning whelk, native to the Gulf of Mexico, is unusual among gastropods, having a sinistral shell.


Busycon whelks are scavengers and carnivores, equipped with a proboscis tipped with a file-like radula used to bore holes through the shells of barnacles, clams, crabs, and lobsters. They have a large, muscular foot with which they hold their victims. Small sharks, gulls, crabs, and other gastropods are known to feed upon them.

The knobbed whelk, Busycon carica, is the second-largest species, growing up to 30 cm long. They have tubercles (spines) along the shoulder. They open clams with their muscular foot and insert their long proboscis to digest the flesh. The knobbed whelk is a common predator of the foreshore mudflats as far offshore as 50 m.


Strings of Busycon whelk egg capsules commonly wash ashore and desiccate, becoming brittle. These objects are sometimes called mermaid's necklaces because they resemble a large necklace strung with medallion-shaped egg pouches. Each pouch of the string contains numerous protoconchs (baby whelks), similar in appearance to adults but with fewer whorls and less sculpture.

Human use

When used for cooking in the United States, busycon whelks are sometimes called scungilli, an Italian-American adaptation of the Neapolitan sconciglio which means the meat of a (usually edible) sea snail.


The genus Busycon contains the following species:[3]

Species brought into synonymy

The following species have been moved from Busycon to the genus Busycotypus


  1. Bouchet, P. (2015). Busycon Röding, 1798. In: MolluscaBase (2015). Accessed through: World Register of Marine Species at http://www.marinespecies.org/aphia.php?p=taxdetails&id=160183 on 2015-12-03
  2. busycon in Meriam-Webster Unabridged
  3. list of Busycon species at malacolog.org
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