Limpets – My Favourite!

People often ask “So what do you work on?” and pre 2012 whenever I replied “On Limpets” they would get very excited and say “What the OYLIMPICS!!!” and I would then get a barrage of questions about how to acquire tickets!!! Thankfully since London 2012 that’s all calmed down a bit.

My lovely limpy, limpy do da’s – that’s the limpet song which can be heard being sung on rocky shores up and down the country by people dressed in rubber! Its a glamorous  job. Who knew when I started out in marine biology that the humble limpet (Patella) would become my obsession.

Limpet hunting
Ready for action on a freezing cold December morning.

Limpets really are the prefect animal to study, there easy to find, they don’t put up much of a fight and they can be used as a proxy for the health of the larger ecosystem. For the last 6 years I have been involved in a project where we look at three species of limpet – Patella depressa, Patella vulgata and Patella ulyssiponensis. Every month we collect samples and then we dissect them to asses the fecundity of the gonad. We’re monitoring how the fecundity  of species changes throughout the year and between years. We then go on to look at whether the climate has had an impact of the reproductive output of the species.

Last week I had the honour of visiting the molluscan collection in the bowels of the Natural History Museum. This was the best day in the office of my entire career! I spent the day helping to measure historic Dog whelks (Nucella lapillus) but I did manage to spend some time looking through the drawers. Also the blue whale of limpets, just happened to be resting on top of a cupboard (its too big to fit inside!) May I introduce Scutellastra Mexicana, the Giant Mexican Limpet, size range 50mm – 260mm, it was once thought to be extinct, but small pockets of individuals have been found in remote areas.

Molluscan collection, NHM London.

Scutellastra Mexicana – the blue whale of limpets.










Next time you find yourself on the shore, spare a thought for the humble, often over looked limpet. They really are the most amazing little creatures.

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