This time of year, strands of what look like Hawaiian leis are scattered across local beaches. These sometimes squishy, sometimes crunchy strands can be up to three feet long. The circular pods all attached to each other have baby whelks inside!
After a female whelk becomes pregnant, she slides her way into shallow water habitats like seagrass beds. She burrows underneath the sand and attaches her egg case. She’ll remain in that spot with her siphon, the tube she uses to breathe, in the water column. It can take up to four days for the whelk to finish laying her egg strand.The babies develop over the course of 3-13 months. Once they’re ready, the miniature whelks make their way into the big blue through an escape hatch in the pod.
Female whelks lay a large number of eggs because of the threats the casings face during early development. Tides, currents, and high wave action in the shallows can rip egg strands free from their anchors. Laying hundreds of eggs increases the chances that a lightning whelk’s eggs will survive to adulthood.
Once detached, egg casings pile up on the beach and make for an interesting beach combing day. Keep an eye out for these and other marine snail egg casings throughout June and again in the fall and winter!