A Washing up of Washballs

Recent strandline of whelk eggmasses



Those creamy coloured bubbly things that some people call Monkey brains (?) are being seen all over our strandlines at the moment. There’s a reason for that.





This rounded, squidgy when still wet and, by the time they wash up, mostly empty, mass is a grouping of eggs similar to frogspawn, but each egg is the temporary home to many mini marine molluscs all feeding on the yolk within. They will grow (depending on the story to follow) into the common whelk (Buccinum undatum).

Common whelk (Buccinum undatum)

The gruesome story we looove to tell families when they visit our stalls at events is that after about a month of growing and developing the baby snails are ready to hatch, but some are a bit readier than others and, once out first, go on to feed on their brothers and sisters. Although the stuff of nightmares, looked at from a survival point of view the mothers have just made sure that some of their very many offspring begin life with a good meal to stand them in good stead.


The empty masses then get washed ashore and with the stormy weather we might have this happening in a more condensed timeframe rather than stretched out over several months. The common whelk has a wide breeding season, which begins in October and youngsters (mini adult forms) are born around this time of year and don’t move far at all from their parents.

These are long-lived animals too and are slow to breed. This strategy, together with limited dispersal, means they are particularly vulnerable to the many threats facing our seas in general, such as over-fishing, development, mining and read more in a recent article describing how Climate Change may impact our largest marine snail.

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