Environmental Protection Agency Narragansett Bay Commission University of Rhode Island Office of Marine Programs

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Feature Creatures

"Gliding, crawling, rippling, clinging, anchoring . . ."

These are the movements of the limpets as they carry their one-shell shield of armor on their backs in the estuary. Limpets can move by rippling the muscles of their foot in a series of waves. During the day, in tide pools or at high tide, limpets glide along rocks in search of food. When the tide retreats, they return to their "home spot" on a special rock. The powerful suction of their foot allows limpets to anchor themselves as they withstand the harsh pounding surf of the tide moving in and out and the waves crashing down on them. They also use their one foot to crawl along the rocks or to cling to the rocks at low tide to keep from drying out. Because of their clinging ability, some World War II mines built for attaching to ships were called "limpet mines."

Limpets are mollusks who can range up to 4 inches in length. They are related to snails, abalone, and sea hares. They are soft-bodied animals possessing a hard single non-spiraling arched shell with broad ventral openings. Limpets can be found world-wide, clinging to rocks or submerged timber usually in the upper intertidal zone of estuaries. Some types of limpets can also be found in the middle and lower intertidal zones. Limpets enjoy the same rocky habitat as periwinkles, barnacles, crabs, and snails. They are marine herbivores and prefer to eat algae off the rocks with their long thin tube-like tongue. They are used as food and as bait for fishing. They need to watch out for starfish and sea otters for limpets are a favorite food of both sea creatures. They are also a favorite food of people living in South Africa and on the Greek Islands.

©2001 Elizabeth D'Abbraccio

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