Category Archives: Atlantic Seashore

Low Tide Life: Atlantic Dogwinkle

Photo of Atlantic Dogwinkles

In addition to Common Periwinkles, I've eaten another local saltwater snail this year, the Atlantic Dogwinkle (Nucella lapillus). Also known as Dogwhelks, these native, pointy-shelled mollusks live in rocky, intertidal zones, alongside the non-native and often more numerous Common Periwinkles. Atlantic Dogwinkles come in a variety of colors (often white), have pointed spires (unlike the blunt spires of Common Periwinkles), and have a groove at the base of the shell opening.

Photo of Common Periwinkle vs. Atlantic Dogwinkle

Scouting out a low-tide Biddeford location, I was able to find areas with more Dogwinkles than Periwinkles, enough for me to feel comfortable harvesting a dozen to eat. After boiling them for a minute or two in saltwater, extracting them with a pin, and removing each operculum (the thin cover on their shell-opening), I enjoyed them as an oceany appetizer.

The top photo shows both snails -- Atlantic Dogwinkles (with white, pink, yellow and black shells) and Common Periwinkles (a light-tan one on left and a smaller, darker one on right). To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Low Tide Life: Blue Mussel

Photo of Blue Mussels

Blue Mussels (Mytilus edulis) live along the New England coast in intertidal and subtidal waters. They anchor themselves by attaching their byssus filaments to a substrate, and in turn sometimes serve as anchors for seaweed. These bivalves are preyed upon by fish, other shellfish, humans, and birds, including Herring Gulls and Common Eiders.

Two inedible mussel species also live in coastal New England waters. Ribbed Mussels (Geukensia demissa) prefer salt marshes and mud flats, and have radially ribbed shell surfaces, while Horse Mussels are typically larger than Blue Mussels, and have a double-bump at the narrow end of each shell.

Mainers can collect two bushels of Blue Mussels per day for personal consumption without a license, though, according to a 2015 article, these marine bivalves have become scarce in places where they were formerly abundant. Wild harvested or cultured Blue Mussels are available at fish markets and grocery stores near me for $2-3 per pound. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Low Tide Life: Common Periwinkle

Photo of Common Periwinkle

One of my personal goals for 2016 is to eat more shellfish. So far, in addition to dining on store-bought mussels and oysters, I've hand-harvested and eaten a couple dozen salt-water snails called Common Periwinkles (Littorina littorea). I'd long known these abundant gastropods were edible, but it was reading Hazel Stark's periwinkle post (on her Partridge, Pine, and Peavey blog) that finally got me to try them. Thanks for the nudge, Hazel -- they're tasty!

Photo of Common Periwinkle

Washed Ashore: Horse Mussel

Photo of Horse Mussel close-up

Empty shells of Horse Mussels (Modiolus modiolus) are commonly found on southern Maine beaches, often attached to washed ashore seaweeds (including Irish Moss and Atlantic Kombu). Shells are typically black on the outside and white on the inside, but wear and staining result in a diversity of appearances. Technical terms aside, notice the characteristic double-bump at the narrow end of a Horse Mussel shell -- Blue Mussels (Mytilus edulis) lack this feature.

Considered inedible to humans, Horse Mussels are eaten by many other coastal creatures, including Herring Gulls who can be seen dropping them repeatedly from the air in an effort to crack the mussels open. I recently watched a Herring Gull crack one open in this way and consume the flesh in short order. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)