Common limpet (Patella vulgata)

GenusPatella (1)
SizeShell length: up to 60 mm (2)

Common and widespread.

The common limpet is a well-known seashore species (2). It has a conical shell, the outer surface of which is greyish-white. Shells situated higher up on the shore tend to have taller shells than those on the lower shore (3). The underside of the muscular 'foot' on which the limpet moves around is yellow, orange or brown and often has a green or greyish tint (3).

Found on all coasts of Britain and Ireland. Its distribution extends from the Arctic Circle in the north to Portugal in the south (3).

Attaches to firm substrates including rocks and stones from the high shore down to the edge of the sublittoral zone, a marine zone which reaches depths of around 200m (3).

Although they may seem to be fixed to the rock, common limpets actually move around to graze on algae during moist conditions or when they are submerged by the tide. They return to the same spot by following the mucus trail that they deposit. This spot becomes worn by the edges of the shell, and eventually an obvious 'scar' in the rock is created. This helps the limpet to attach even more tenaciously to the rock, a strategy that protects it from desiccation (2).

Common limpets begin their life as males, becoming sexually mature at around 9 months of age. Most individuals undergo a sex change, typically becoming female at 2 or 3 years of age, although some remain as males (3). Spawning takes place once a year, usually from October to December, although the timing varies around the British Isles (2). Fertilisation occurs externally; the larvae spend their first few days of life in the water column, after which time they settle on the shore (2). Life-span varies, but is between 10 and 20 years (3).

In many areas, limpets have been collected as a food source for many centuries (3).

Not currently threatened.

Conservation action has not been targeted at this species.

For more on this species see the Marine Life Information Network (MarLIN) species account, available from:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (January 2003):
  2. Fish, J. D. & Fish, S. (1996) A student's guide to the seashore. Second Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  3. Hill, J.M., 2000. Patella vulgata. Common limpet. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Sub-programme [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 06/08/02].