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Kelletia kelletii - Kellet's whelk

Geographic range:
Monterey Bay, California to Isla Asuncion, Baja California, Mexico

Key features:
Kelletia kelletii is among the largest gastropods on the central California coast. The knobbed, purple-green shell of adults is conch-like in appearance, and unlike any other shell one will encounter in California (but see Cooper's nutmeg Cancellaria cooperi).

Similar species:
Cancellaria cooperii -- Cooper's nutmeg

bay (rocky shore), bay (sandy shore), exposed rocky shore, kelp forest, protected rocky shore, protected sandy beaches
Kelletia kelletii - Kellet's whelk image


Primary common name:
Kellet's whelk
  ITIS code:
Synonymous name(s):
General grouping:
Snails, limpets, abalone, chitons

Geographic Range
Range description:
Monterey Bay, California to Isla Asuncion, Baja California
Northern latitude extent:
36.609724 °
  Southern latitude extent:
27.146301 °
East longitude extent:
-121.869314 °
  West longitude extent:
-114.370575 °

Intertidal Height
Lowest intertidal height:
0 meters OR 0 feet
  Highest intertidal height:
0 meters OR 0.0 feet
Intertidal height notes:
Kelletia kelletii rarely occurs in the intertidal, but when it does, it is very low or in large tidepools. North of Point Conception, the only known intertidal occurrence is at one site near Diablo Canyon.

Subtidal Depth Range
Minimum depth:
0 meters OR 0 feet
  Maximum depth:
69 meters OR 229.77 feet
Subtidal depth notes:
North of Point Conception, Kelletia kelletii is uncommon at shallow subtidal depths (<10 m). Currently the bottom depth range is based on by-catch from crab pots and benthic trawls. It is possible that Kelletia kelletii ranges even deeper than 69 m.

bay (rocky shore), bay (sandy shore), exposed rocky shore, kelp forest, protected rocky shore, protected sandy beaches
Habitat notes:
Kelletia kelletii occurs on both rocky reef and soft bottom habitats. It is often considered a resident of kelp forests, but also occurs in adjacent sandy habitats, and is often buried under sand or shelly debris. It is possible that it occurs in more habitats, but to our knowledge, it is often found iin or near rocky reefs. However, these are also the areas where divers tend to go, so its "absence" from other habitat types may due to inadequate sampling.

Relative abundance:
South of Point Conception, Kelletia kelletii is common in kelp forests. North of Point Conception its abundance varies from rare to uncommon along the Big Sur coast and uncommon to occasional in Monterey Bay, the current northernmost extent of the species. The expansion of Kelletia kelletii northward of Point Conception likely took place in the last century.

Species Description
General description:
The robust shell of Kelletia kelletii has heavy sculpturing (varices) crossed by very thin spiral lines. Natural shell color is white with brown spiral lines, but as they age, the shell is covered with either light green or purple algae. The foot tissue of the snail is yellow with a few black stripes and numerous white spots. The operculum is proteinaceous and light brown.
Distinctive features:
Kelletia kelletii is among the largest gastropods on the California coast. The knobbed, purple-green shell of adults is conch-like in appearance, and unlike any other shell one will encounter in California (but see Cooper's nutmeg Cancellaria cooperi).
New recruits, which have the same shell morphology as adults but with white shells and faint brown lines, are 15 mm or less. Adults can reach 175 mm total length (tip of spire to tip of siphonal canal) in southern California. The largest adults in Monterey are <140 mm.

Natural History
General natural history:
Usually found in kelp forests, Kelletia kelletii can be found in rocky crevices, crawling on the reef, or buried under sand or shell debris.
Kelletia kelletii is consumed by sea otters, sea stars, moon snails, and octopus. Humans also eat the snail, and while it is not a targeted species, it is often by-catch of lobster and crab pots. In 1997, a live fish market near Point Conception sold Kelletia kelletii for $2.50 per pound, shell included.
Kelletia kelletii consumes a wide variety of prey and will scavenge when possible. It actively attacks and consumes turban snails, worm snails, and sessile annelid worms (e.g., Serpula vermicularis).

Feeding behavior
Feeding behavior(s):
Carnivore, Scavenger
Feeding behavior notes:
Kelletia kelletii uses a prehensile proboscis to rasp tissue from prey or carcasses. The proboscis can extend up to 3 times the length of the shell.
March - July  
Kelletia kelletii have separate sexes and in early spring small groups of males and females gather to mate. Males, which are often smaller than the females they mate with, grab hold of the female\'s shell and use a broad, flat penis to transfer sperm into the mantle cavity of the female. Males will continue to attempt mating with females well into the egg-laying season, and even while females deposit egg cases (and hence cannot move).

May - August  
Female Kelletia kelletii often gather in large egg-laying aggregations. This can number from a few to hundreds and cover an area up to 5 m in diameter. Aggregations form in late spring/early summer, occuring a little earlier in southern California than central California. In Monterey, females have been observed laying egg cases well into August, although most egg laying is done in June and July.

June - September  
Each female deposits several rows of egg capsules, each containing hundreds of eggs. These eggs develop into larvae, which causes the capsules to darken in color. The plug of each capsule slowly dissolves until the larvae can swim out. It is unknown how long the larvae spend in the water column before they settle, but work by Dr. Danielle Zacherl indicates it is less than a couple of months.

August - February  
Although whelks can feed year round, when females aggregate to lay eggs they do not feed. In general, observations of feeding whelks during mating and egg laying is rare. New shell is added during this part of the and feeding observations are more common.

Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary:
Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary:
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary:
Although this species is not considered threatened, it is apparently a growing interest among commercial fisheries. Landings of the whelk have increased in the last decade, and it may become a regulated fishery in the near future. Given the low reproductive success of adults and their slow growth, this species could be harvested to very low levels very quickly if not managed properly.
Listing Status:
Monitoring Trends:
Live Kelletia kelletii were first noted in Monterey in the late 1970s. Prior to that only shells had been found, and they were rare. There appears to have been in increase in numbers during the late 1980s and the 1990s. Densities are still low, and much lower than in southern California, but adults have been found throughout the Sanctuary as far north as the Del Monte Shale Beds.
Gotshall, D. 2005. Guide to marine invertebrates : Alaska to Baja California. Sea Challengers, Monterey, CA. 117 p.

Morris, R.H., D.P Abbott, and E.C. Haderlie. 1980. Intertidal Invertebrates of California. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. 690 p.

Data supplied by SIMoN Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network
Anthopleura xanthogrammica - Giant green anemone

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