Species of the Month – the turbo snail

We usually choose an endangered or rare species for our featured Species of the Month. If you’ve ever visited a beach in south eastern Australia you will recognise the Turbo Snail (Turbo undulatus) so it is by no means unusual. However, a recent question prompted me to bring our focus to this common species that nevertheless has some interesting features. I was asked, “what are the white round discs with a bump on one side and a swirl on the other that you at the beach?” All will be revealed below!

The Turbo Snail has a variety of names including Warrener, Turban Shell, and Periwinkle. It’s a common snail found only along much of the coast of Australia, from northern NSW to Albany WA and around Tasmania. They have five rounded whorls and are zigzag-streaked with green and white. They prefer rocky reefs and rock pools but can be found washed up on the beach.

Turbo shell (Turbo undulatus) washed up at Brown Bay, SA. Photo: Jess Bourchier

Now back to those white round disks – they are the Turbo Snail’s operculum or ‘trap door’! When the snail is attached to a rock or moving, the operculum moves inside the shell but is pushed over the shell opening for protection when the animal is dislodged or exposed. Operculums have a distinctive swirl which you may have noticed used in jewelry making. Operculums are often also found in abundance in Aboriginal middens along the coast.

Left: outside of operculum is dome-shaped. Right: inside of operculum is flat with spiral. Photos: Jess Bourchier

As we’re coming into the warmer months and you may be visiting the beach, keep your eyes peeled for this and other interesting coastal creatures. If you’ve got any coast and marine photos you’d like to share, we’d love to see them, and if you’re in the Limestone Coast and are interested to become a part of a Reef Watch group please get in touch.

Jess Bourchier