Wednesday 15 May
Edible sea urchin (Echinus esculentus)
- The largest recorded edible sea urchin measured 17.6 centimetres in diameter.
- The external skeleton of the edible sea urchin is known as the ‘test’, the colour of which may vary from pinkish-red to purple, green or yellow.
Edible sea urchin fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Edible sea urchin description
The edible or common sea urchin (Echinus esculentus) has a large, rounded 'shell', which is actually an external skeleton, correctly called a 'test', composed of calcareous plates. It is usually pinkish-red in colour but more rarely may be shades of yellow, green or purple (2). The shape of the test varies depending on the depth of the water; those of individuals living in shallow water tend to be more flat than those of individuals living in deep water (3). The Latin name for the genus 'Echinus' derives from the Greek for 'spiny'; the test bristles with many protective reddish spines with lilac coloured tips (2).
- Also known as
- Common sea urchin.
- Diameter: up to 160 mm (2)
- Containing free calcium carbonate, chalky.
- The fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
- Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones), echinoderms, and others.
- Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
- Of the stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
- An abrupt physical change from the larval to the adult form.
- Aquatic organisms that drift with water movements; may be either phytoplankton (plants), or zooplankton (animals).
IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
Tyler-Walters, H., 2000. Echinus esculentus. Edible sea urchin. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Sub-programme [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. (August, 2002)
- Fish, J.D. and Fish, S. (1996) A student's guide to the seashore. Second Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
- Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
- Buczacki, S. (2002) Fauna Britannica. Hamlyn, London.
Penfold, R., Hughson, S. and Boyle, N. (1996) The Potential for a sea urchin fishery in Shetland. North Atlantic Fisheries College, Unknown. Available at:
DTI. Conservation Sites in the Sea (January, 2003)
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
Edible sea urchin biology
The common sea urchin browses on seaweeds and invertebrates (2), moving along the sea floor by means of 'tube feet', which project out from the spines (4). The mouth is located centrally on the underside of the test, and is furnished with a group of 5 specialised calcareous plates, known as an 'Aristotle's lantern' which acts as a jaw (4).
The sexes are separate, breeding takes place in spring, and fertilisation is external (3). A microscopic four-armed larval stage forms; this 'echinopluteus' larva is free-swimming and makes up an important part of the plankton for around 8 weeks, before undergoing a complex metamorphosis into a small urchin (3). Maturity is reached at between one and three years of age, and estimates of maximum lifespan vary from 10 to 16 years of age (3).Top
Edible sea urchin range
Although widespread and common in much of Britain, the edible sea urchin is absent from some areas of north Wales, the east coast of England and the eastern part of the English Channel (2). It has a broad range in northwest Europe (3), from Finland and Iceland in the north, reaching south to Portugal (2).Top
Edible sea urchin habitat
Occasionally may be found on the lower shore, but highest densities occur offshore (3), where it lives on rocky surfaces (2). It usually reaches depths of around 40 metres, but has been found at over 100 metres deep (2).Top
Edible sea urchin status
The edible sea urchin is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).Top
Edible sea urchin threats
The common and scientific names suggest that this sea urchin is edible (esculentus is the Latin word for 'edible'), yet only the reproductive organs (roe) can be eaten (5). There is a large international market for sea urchin products, particularly the roe (6). Exploitation of sea urchins grew rapidly in many countries, and in many cases over-exploitation and collapse of the sea urchin populations followed (6). There was a sea urchin fishery in Cornwall in the 1980s, and the potential of a fishery in Shetland has been investigated (2). The edible sea urchin has also been collected commercially for the curio trade (2).Top
Edible sea urchin conservation
The edible sea urchin occurs in a number of candidate Special Areas of Conservation (7).Top
Find out more
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:
More »Related species
Play the Team WILD game
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.