Wentletrap (Epitonium scalare Linnaeum, 1758)


A Curvy Figure

By Patricia B. Mitchell.

Wentletraps are such beautiful shells that in the past in China, rice paste copies of the Precious Wentletrap (Epitonium scalare Linnaeum, 1758) were made and sold as the real thing. The fakes commanded high prices among collectors, as, of course, did the real shells.

The Wentletrap snail family has about 11 genera and many hundreds of species. Wentletraps are found in all oceans. They are all fairly small (1/4 to 4-5/8 inches tall) with smooth globose whorls and distinct axial ribs. There is no siphonal canal. The aperture may be round or oval, with a heavy lip. The operculum (“door”) is thin and horny.

The gastropod has a long proboscis, two sensory tentacles with eyes set close to the base, and a broad foot. Wentletraps feed primarily on corals and anemones. It is believed that when the snail is dining on coral it exudes a pink- or purple-colored anesthetic on its prey so that the polyp does not retract into its hard “house.”

The creature's egg string looks like a string of beads, or angular capsules. This strand is often covered with sand or mud, and is between 2-9 inches long. The string itself is made of chitinized material.

There are several species of the Wentletrap family represented on the Southeast coast, including the Angulate Wentletrap, the Brown-Banded Wentletrap, Humphrey's Wentletrap, Kreb's Wentletrap, and the Many-Ribbed Wentletrap. — To tell one species from another, one must study the differences in the number and shape of the axial ribs, the angle of the spire, and the overall shell structure.

Many of the Wentles live offshore; a few live in water of a wading depth. The word “Wentletrap” is Dutch, and “Wendeltreppe” is German for “spiral staircase,” referring to the characteristic ribbed sculpture on the shell.

Hermit Crabs are perhaps connoisseurs of beauty, for small Hermits often reside in empty Wentletrap shells which have washed ashore.


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