Shell oval and conical in shape; apex central, or nearly so, strong, sometimes with ribs diverging from the apex to the margin, and sometimes quite smooth. Colours various,pale greyish-yellow or greenish-brown, inside generally showing the same colour through, and the markings of the ribs distinctly towards the margin; the inside of the apex an opaque bluish-white, and the whole slightly polished.
The common limpet is found distributed all round our coasts, where it is greatly valued as bait by fishermen, and Dr. Johnson calculated that in Berwick alone there is an annual consumption of no fewer than 11,880,000 limpets for that purpose.* At low tide limpets may be collected in numbers from the rocks and boulders. Some are seen safely ensconced in holes or depressions made by means of the muscular action of their foot or disk, which is the width of the shell; others are seen creeping about in search of fresh resting places, or food, with their tentacles slightly protruding beyond the shell, till alarmed by some touch, or otherwise; and they adhere with wonderful strength to the rocks. Wordsworth says : -
"And should the strongest arm endeavour The limpet from its rock to sever, 'Tis seen its loved support to clasp, With such tenacity of grasp, We wonder that such strength should dwell In such a small and simple shell".
* Maitre Jacques.
Patella vulgata. Limpet.
del _ G. B. Sowerby. Vincent Brooks, Imp.
Dr. A. Hartwig, remarks in his 'Harmonies of Nature; or, the Unity of Creation,' that the broad-soled foot of the limpet acts as a powerful sucker, and that it has been calculated that the larger species are thus able to produce a resistence equivalent to the weight of 150 lbs., which, considering the sharp angle of the shell, is more than sufficient to defy the strength of a man to raise them.
On the Devonshire coast I have found very large specimens of Patella vulgata, and worn quite smooth, some of the shells measuring as much as eight inches in circumference.
Limpets, a foot in diameter, are found on the western coast of South America, and are used by the natives as basins.†
In many places limpets are used for food, especially on the Continent, where they are of tener eaten than the periwinkle. At Naples they make them into soup, and I am told it is an excellent dish. At Eastbourne we have often seen the Irish reapers come down to the shore and eat the limpets raw which they had knocked off the rocks with their knives. The poorer classes at Eastbourne also eat them constantly, the children collecting them at low tide from the rocks. Mr. Patterson, while residing, in 1837, near the town of Larne, Co. Antrim, endeavoured to form some idea of the quantity of the common limpet taken from the rocks on that part of the coast, and used as food; and he had reason to believe that the weight of the boiled fish was above eleven tons. Limpets ready boiled are regularly sold in the fishmarket at Truro, at 1s. per quart; and at Plymouth they gather great numbers of them (especially from the breakwater), as well as in the Isle of Man, where they are known by the name of "flitters;" and in Scotland the juice of these shellfishes is mixed with oatmeal. In the Feroe Isles they call them "flia;" and in 'Life in Normandy' (vol. i. p. 192), we are told "that limpets are constantly eaten by the poor; and that at Granville the children use a square-pointed knife, with a thick back, for getting them off the rocks; some having, in addition, small wooden hammers; others only a stone in their right hands. The edge of the knife was applied always on one side, and never at the top of the shell; a little sharp tap was given, either with the hammer or stone, and the fish fell at once". This reminds us of Hermippus, who says : -
"And beating down the limpets from the rocks, They make a noise like castanets".*
* Forbes and Hanley, 'Brit. Mollusca,' vol. ii. p. 425.
† Cuming, as quoted by Woodward, in ' Recent and Fossil Shells'.
* Athenaeus, 'Deipn.' bk. xiv. 39.
The Patellidœ were also among the shellfish eaten by the ancients; Diphilus says they have a pleasant flavour, are easily digested, and when boiled are particularly nice.* It is a curious fact, and one which is puzzling to archaeologists, that limpet shells should be found in such abundance in cromlechs, both in the Channel Islands and in Brittany, surrounding the remains of the dead, often covering the bones, skulls, etc, to the depth of two and three feet in thickness. Mr. F. C. Lukis, in the ' Journal of the Archaeological Association' (vol. i. p. 28), mentions finding limpet-shells, mixed with earth, round the bones in the Cromlech du Tus, or de Hus, Guernsey. Again, in a Cromlech in Jersey, discovered in April, 1848, Mr. Lukis adds that there is a difficulty in solving the great question - why such a mass of limpet shells should invariably accompany these abodes of the dead ? They are found not only in the earliest deposits, but also amongst the more recent.†
The term "Cromlech," as applied to the Cromlech du Tus, is a local name, used in the Channel Islands for a subterranean chamber, lined with upright slabs, covered by a roof of one or more slabs of stone, with a long passage leading to it, formed in like manner of upright slabs covered by large lintels, over which has been raised a tumulus of earth; while our term Cromlech is applied to those covered by one capstone only, without any passage leading to them.‡ Those consisting of chambers and a long entrance passage covered by slabs, within a large tumulus of earth, as at Wellow, near Stoney Littleton; at Rodmartin; at Uley; and at Nympsfield, are called Tumps. In speaking of Cromlechs, in the Channel Islands, I do not therefore allude to monuments such as we call Cromlechs; which last, though probably sepulchral, have not yet been found to contain interments.
* Athenaeus, 'Deipn.' vol. i. bk. iii. p. 152. † 'Journal of the Archaeological Association,' vol. iv. p. 338. ‡ See Sir Gardiner Wilkinson, 'British Remains on Dartmoor,' 'Journal of the Archaeological Association,' vol. xviii. 1863.
We read that at the Cape of Good Hope, at White Sands, also at Cape Point, and many other places along the coast, there are to be seen a series of shell mounds, containing large Patellidœ, Haliotis and other shells. The limpets are of so large a size that they make convenient drinking-cups. All about the mounds are to be found various stone implements used by the people - either Bushmen, or Hottentots.* In Britton's 'History of Dorset,' mention is made of the finding of a small urn in a barrow in the parish of Lulworth, about two inches high, and one inch in diameter, neatly covered with the shell of a limpet; but it was quite empty. Necklaces of limpets and other shells, strung together on fibre or sinews, are found in early British graves. Beads made from the columella of Strombus gigas are found in sepulchral remains in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana,† and the shells of the Dentalium made into beads have been met with in tumuli in Ohio.‡ In Egypt, on the mummies of children, necklaces of natural shells, or shells figured in gold, silver, precious stones, etc, are found - chiefly, according to Passalacqua, met with on those of young girls.§
* 'Notes by a Naturalist on the Challenger,' by H. N. Moseley.
† 'Prehistoric Remains,' by Dr. Daniel Wilson.
‡ 'Hint Chips'.
§ 'A History of Egyptian Mummies,' by Thomas Joseph Petti-grew, F.R.S.
The women of the Andaman Islands wear various ornaments, and, according to Mr. Ball, the most extraordinary are the skulls of their defunct relatives, festooned with strings of shells, which some of them carry suspended from their necks.*
Limpet shells are used for mortar.
In the island of Herm, near Guernsey, poultry are fed on Patella vulgata; but it is said that they will not touch Patella atheletica, which is also considered too tough for bait.
Sea-birds feed on the Patella, and Mr. Gatcombe, in the Field, August, 1863, mentions having once taken from the gullet of an oyster-catcher upwards of thirty limpets. He also adds an account of a curious occurrence which took place on the Plymouth breakwater some time ago, "One of the workmen employed on the breakwater observed a sandpiper fluttering in a peculiar manner, and discovered, on approaching it, that it had been made prisoner by a limpet. It would appear that in running about in search of food, the bird's toe had accidentally got under a limpet, which, suddenly closing to the rock, held it fast until the man came up, who with his knife removed the limpet, and released the bird".
The Cornish giant, Tregeagle (who is said to have been a wicked seigneur, once residing in a mansion on the site of Dozmare, or Dosmery Pool, by which it was engulphed, and his park transformed into the barren waste now known as Bodmin Moor,) is supposed to haunt Dozmare Pool, and is condemned to the hopeless task of emptying it with a single limpet shell, which has a hole bored in it. Tregeagle was not an imaginary person, he really existed, and was the dishonest steward of Lord Robartes, of Lanhydrock.*
* 'Jungle Life'.
The French call this shell Lépas, Patelle, Jambe, (Etl de bouc,† Bernicle, File, and the very large ones are called Ran, at Cherbourg (the same name as that applied to the Buccinum, on that part of the coast);‡ the Germans, call them Schüsselmuschel, Napfmuschel, or Napfschnecke; the Spaniards, Diampa, Lampas, Laypas, Lamparas, Lamparons, Conchelos, Cucas, Patgellidas, and Barretets; the Portuguese, Lapa; and the Italians, Lepade; and in Cornwall limpet shells are called Crogans, also Brnigan, and Brennick.§