Limpet Legends

 Lofoten Islands, Norway – I felt like I had traveled across time and space to the rugged land of my ancestors… a land of jagged icy rock rising straight out of deep watery inlets, a land of Vikings and conquerors, famed for its spectacular midnight sun and rigorous life dependent on the bounty of the sea. I could almost hear the musical voices of mermaids whispering tales from the deep as we boarded yet another boat to visit the isolated beach where my grandmother was born on the edge of the churning sea.

There on the top of the world, I recognized the familiar sights of fishing boats and rubber boots, urchins and snail shells as I walked with my cousin along the shore where water lapped softly against the rocks. She talked of a hard life of water and wind, violent storms as well as the welcomed relief of calm, golden summer days.

I stooped to marvel at the delicate color and pattern of a large Limpet shell when she began the story of child rearing in this beautiful, yet isolated place. Over hundreds of years, women became masters of their surroundings, utilizing every available resource to feed, protect and nurture their families. Far from medical clinics, drug and grocery stores, the sea provided their primary supply source.


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The Limpet shell I held was one example. After giving birth, women struggled with the same physical issues and annoyances that all women do and found sore, cracked breast nipples to be one of them. Somewhere along the way, they discovered that placing Limpet shells on their irritated nipples was not only soothing, but helped with healing. Ingenious! To this day, new mums across Norway are given Limpet shells in many of the nation’s hospitals. I even found an online site that sells them. Natural Norway Breast Shells

For centuries, people have looked to the sea to find answers to their problems. From seaweed and salmon to whale bone and limpet shells, the ocean has always been and continues to be a vital source for sustenance and support.

Tracking wonder often leads us to think creatively and find innovative ways to wisely utilize the treasures we discover.

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Where and When – Limpet shells are abundant in the mid to upper areas of the intertidal zone and there are a handful of varieties found in our area.  Probably the most commonly seen limpets are the Ribbed Limpet or the flatter Plate Limpet. Whitecap, Rough Keyhole, Shield, File, Mask and Unstable Limpets are some of the other limpets you may see. However, individual species of limpets can be hard to identify because they can actually change their morphology (form) based on what predator is in the area. They can lower their shell profile to fly under the radar of predators like Oyster Catchers, sea stars, shore birds, fish, seals and even humans.

Wonder Triggers for Young Trackers

  • Find a tidepool of still water and study the creatures living in it.  Can you find limpets? What shape? What sizes? Can you estimate their length at the widest part? Do they all have the same pattern or color?
  • Look at the edges where the shell touches the object they are sitting on. Are the edges smooth or rough? Ribbed? Does the shell make a tight seal against the rock or is there a little bit of space?
  • Limpets are univalves, meaning they have just one shell, not two. Their tender bodies provide food for other animals, but as long as they are clinging to the rocks, predators have a hard time getting to the meat. Without being too forceful, gently try to move the limpet. See if there is a little gap in the shell for a beak or claw to get under. What kinds of animals would be strong enough to pull the limpet off the rocks?
  • Find empty limpet shells. Can you think of what it could be used for? A scraping tool, decorative object, etc.?

References and Resources

Sound Water Stewards – Limpets

BBC – Ocean living: A step closer to reality?

Images – Sharon Pegany Copyright 2018, Keyhole Limpet – Public Domain Pictures

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