Below are a few examples of snails living on Oregon’s exposed rocky shores and, rarely, on the beaches. The photos are from northern Oregon unless noted. These are the easy-to-spot snails I’ve seen and photographed on the shores I’ve visited; they’re the ones you can find with a light touch without turning rocks or creating disturbances. Organization-wise, I loosely follow Lamb and Hanby (2005). If I use common names, they’re my choice. Experts cover these examples and many more in the books, field guides, and identification resources listed at the bottom of the page.
Let the snails be upon you!
Nucella ostrina northern striped dogwinkle
Nucella ostrina is most noticeable among the acorn barnacles Balanus glandula. They’re easy to find and, without question, one of the rocky intertidal snails I most enjoy.
I’ve always referred to the dogwinkles featured below as Nucella canaliculata, and that’s what you’ll see in most of the references at the bottom of this page, but knowledge is ever-changing. While there is more to learn about diversity in this group, as I now understand it, N. canaliculata is thought to range only as far south as Washington, meaning the similar-looking form from Oregon is Nucella analoga, previously included with N. canaliculata.
The shells’ ridges and the channels between them are a little variable and always captivating.
Dense aggregations occasionally materialize. The scenes below are from July.
Spring and early summer are favorable for finding clusters of flask-shaped egg capsules. Early development is completed inside the capsules and juveniles emerge as miniature snails.
Lirabuccinum dirum dire whelk
I haven’t run across dire whelks on northern Oregon shores. Those shown below are from sheltered beaches.
Nassarius fossatus channeled basket snail
Channeled nassas, as they are also known, apparently don’t overlap much with me in the northern Oregon intertidal. I don’t recall coming across a live one. Empty nassa shells, however, can be abundant, and hermit crabs frequently occupy them. Although I think the egg cases shown below are those of N. fossatus, I haven’t seen deposition, only drifted cases.
Tegula funebralis black turban
Black turbans are conspicuous and abundant. They seem more numerous on the central coast than in most northern Oregon locations.
Callianax biplicata purple olive
On exposed beaches, up your odds of finding purple olives by walking out toward the swash on a pretty low tide. When things are just right, and I don’t know exactly what that looks like, they can be startlingly abundant. But you won’t find them on every stretch of the beach; maybe try a beach with large protruding boulders, stacks, or a contoured shoreline that gives a little shelter.
Below is a collection of traces left by purple olives. It’s worth knowing what you’re looking at so you don’t have to dig them up to find what made them.
Gotshall, D. W. 2005. Guide to Marine Invertebrates, Alaska to Baja California 2nd Edition (Revised). Shoreline Press.
Harbo, R. M. 2011. Whelks to Whales: Coastal Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest. 2nd ed. Harbour Publishing Co.
Kozloff, E. N. 1993. Seashore Life of the Northern Pacific Coast. 3rd ed. University of Washington Press.
Lamb, A. and B. P. Hanby. 2005. Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest. Harbour Publishing.
Sept. J. D. 2019. The New Beachcomber’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest. Harbour Publishing.
Biodiversity of the Central Coast’s Molluscs page contains excellent information on most of the snails shown above. Accessed 02/28/2023.
Friends of Netarts Bay WEBS Mollusks page. Accessed 02/28/2023.
It’s worth scrolling down to Gastropoda in Common Sea Life of Southeastern Alaska: A field guide by Aaron Baldwin & Paul Norwood. Accessed 02/28/2023.
Bering, N., T. Hext and E. Parker. 2017. Nucella ostrina. In: Oregon Estuarine Invertebrates: Rudys’ Illustrated Guide to Common Species, 3rd ed. T.C. Hiebert, B.A. Butler and A.L. Shanks (eds.). University of Oregon Libraries and Oregon Institute of Marine Biol- ogy, Charleston, OR.
Charbonneau, N., Helmstetler, H., and Cowles, D. (2009). Nucella ostrina (Deshayes, 1839). Invertebrates of the Salish Sea. Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory. Accessed 09/15/2022.
Cowles, D. (2005). Nucella canaliculata (Duclos, 1832). Invertebrates of the Salish Sea. Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory. Accessed 09/15/2022.
Cowles, D. (2006). Nassarius fossatus (Gould, 1850). Invertebrates of the Salish Sea. Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory. Accessed 09/15/2022.
Cowles, D. (2004). Chlorostoma funebralis (A. Adams, 1855). Invertebrates of the Salish Sea. Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory. Accessed 09/15/2022.
Cowles, D. (2006). Callianax biplicata (Sowerby, 1825). Invertebrates of the Salish Sea. Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory. Accessed 09/15/2022.
I updated this page on February 28, 2023.