American Oceans

Common Limpet

The Common Limpet, also referred to by its scientific name of Patella vulgata, is a cone-shaped sea snail species.

common limpet patella vulgata closeup shot

It lives in the shallow water along the rocks on the shore of Western Europe. Because of its European habitat, it is also known as the European Limpet.

This snail takes on different characteristics depending on what region of the continent’s seashore it lives in. 

The Common Limpet often lives attached to a rock. The suction-like function of its foot holds it securely but can also let go to move around and feed. It is an herbivorous species because it eats seaweed and algae from the surface of rocks.

Characteristics & Appearance

The Common Limpet does not look particularly remarkable, but they can be quite individual and unique from each other in appearance. 

Weight & Length

Common Limpet grow to a maximum of 2.4 inches long. Females usually grow bigger than males. Exposure to tidal waves influences their size.

group of common limpet grow with different length

Common Limpet are light, weighing in at between .007 – .3 ounces, or .2 – 8.4 grams. This is roughly what a teaspoon of peanut butter weighs.

Physical Characteristics & Color

The shell of the Common Limpet is shaped like a round cone (conical) with colors in hues of brown, gray, and green.

common limpet snail body with round shape

The snail’s body is also rounded and cone-like in shape to fit its shell. The underside of its body is the foot, a muscular suckerlike flesh that can securely clamp onto a rock.

On the head of this limpet are two tentacles and a mouth. Inside the mouth is a powerful tongue, called a radula, with teeth made from iron and other minerals that are up to thirteen times stronger than steel.

There are also two eyespots on the head, one at the base of each tentacle. These eyespots do not see images. They only sense light and darkness.

common limpet with two eyespots on the head

Common Limpet spend most of their time affixed to one rock. They trap water under their shells to prevent drying out.

These interesting creatures have a favorite spot on a favorite stone and return to it every time after moving around to feed. 

Lifespan & Reproduction

A Common Limpet’s lifespan depends on where it lives. If it lives under algae, it will grow faster but only live two to three years. If it lives on bare rock, its growth is slower, but it can live up to sixteen to twenty years.

common limpet lives on a coastline rock

Reproduction occurs through a method called broadcast spawning. Several females release eggs, and several males release sperm simultaneously into the water, where fertilization happens. 

Broadcast spawning typically happens during the winter months. The Common Limpet spawns once a year.

Multiple limpets releasing eggs and sperm at the same time result in more successful fertilization rates. 

common limpet morphing from male to female

Common Limpet are known for morphing from male to female as they grow. They are born male and change to female when they reach a certain size.

Larger females produce more eggs, resulting in better success rates of fertilization. Females can turn back into males if necessary. 


The Common Limpet lives along the shore of Western Europe. They live on rocks between the shore’s high tide and low tide areas, in the intertidal zone. 

common limpet live on its habitat rocks

Common Limpets are only found along the United Kingdom coastline, whereas other limpet species of limpet live all over the world.

This limpet lives alone in its shell clamped to a rock or under algae. They stay close to each other in their region of the sea.

Where Do Common Limpet Live?

Common Limpet spend most of their day firmly attached to their favorite rock. It uses its muscular foot to form a tight bond to the rock that is difficult to break.

common limpet firmly attached to same rock repeatedly

Since Common Limpet return to the same rock repeatedly, its shell eventually forms a worn spot on the stone, which helps the limpet attach more securely.

This particular spot on the limpet’s favorite rock is critical to its survival. Humans need to leave their environment the same as they found it instead of disturbing or moving the rocks when exploring. 

Food & Diet

The Common Limpet’s diet is quite bland. They are herbivores, and they don’t travel far or even move much for their food.

common limpet dont travel for their food

The Common Limpet rely on their immediate surroundings for their food. The impressive thing about Common Limpet is the strength of their tongue and how they gather their food.

What Do Common Limpet Eat?

Common Limpet usually eat algae, but they will sometimes eat small barnacles and other miscellaneous things that happen to settle on and around their home rock. Their food choice is altogether dull, but the way they gather their food is fascinating.

small barnacles for common limpet to eat

This limpet species are mostly stationary on their rock. Once mature, they do not swim or move much, so they are limited to the area around their rock for food.

When the tide comes in, they use their muscular foot to move around their rock to feed. And then they return to their worn spot on their home rock. They find their way back to it by following the trail of mucus they left behind.  

They have a powerful tongue with up to a hundred rows of sharp teeth known to be stronger than steel.

common limpet view under glass of powerful tongue

Common Limpet use their tongue to scrape the surface of rocks and sea beds for algae and other vegetation. Limpet are known for grazing because of this method of feeding. 

While their food choice is mainly algae, their grazing style of food collection causes them to collect and ingest other small items like various vegetation and young barnacles.

Threats & Predators

Because of their primarily stationary nature, Common Limpet can seem like easy prey for predators. But their strong bond to their rock is good protection from being eaten. 

Human Threats

People in some European countries eat Common Limpet, although eating them is not prevalent.

common limpet grilled to eat for european dish

They are easy to find, easy to catch (they’re stationary), and abundant along the shore. However, their suction cup-like bond to their rock is so strong it is difficult even for humans to pry them up.  

Climate Change & Global Warming

Common Limpet are efficient at adapting to their environment. They are suited to thrive in warming waters because of their diet.

common limpet in warming waters to get food

As the oceans’ water gets warmer and becomes less habitable by other animals, algae and other marine vegetation may increase. This provides more food for the limpet.


Common Limpet can be preyed upon by a variety of creatures. Small mammals, birds, fish, lizards, and seals like to eat them.

common limpet keeping tight bond to their rock

Their two primary defenses are their tight bond to their rock, or ‘fleeing’ by letting go of the rock and letting the tide sweep them away. Their meat can also be toxic to some animals.

Other Threats

Because of their stationary nature, Common Limpets’ main threats are humans and animals. Being eaten isn’t the only threat.

common limpet relies on home rock for security

The careless behavior of humans is also harmful to this limpet. This species relies on their worn spot on their home rock for security.

If the rock is moved or turned over, or someone or something moves the limpet, its lifespan can be affected. 

Conservation Status

If left to its own devices, the Common Limpet can easily adapt to the evolution of its environment.

common limpet shell collection risk by humans

However, it could be at risk of becoming endangered because of declining habitat and shell collection by humans. Their ability to change sex to increase reproduction improves their species’ survival.

Fun Facts

  • The tongue of the Common Limpet is the world’s strongest known biological piece of anatomy. 
  • Common Limpet teeth are thirteen times stronger than steel.
  • This species of limpets have a favorite spot on their rock that they return to after feeding. They leave a trail of mucus to find their way back.
  • They can change sex, from male to female and from female to male.
  • Common Limpets are born underwater and swim around until they mature, at which time they find a rock and stay there. 
  • Common Limpets have adapted to thrive both on land and in the water.

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