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Phylum Mollusca > Class Gastropoda
Dove snails
Family Columbellidae
updated Jul 2020

if you learn only 3 things about them ...
These small pretty snails are often hidden under stones.
Some are well camouflaged. Look carefully for them.
Some shells may contain tiny hermit crabs and not living snails!

Where seen?
These pretty small snails can be common on some of our natural rocky shores and also in our seagrass meadows. But they are usually overlooked, the pretty patterns on their shells sometimes hidden by algae and encrusting animals.

Features: 1-2cm. The thick shell has a narrow opening that is thickened. A crab would probably find it difficult to stick a pincer into the opening. The thick smooth shell is also likely to be a slippery tricky thing for a crab to try to crush. The operculum is long and made out of a horn-like material. The foot is narrow and strong, and the siphon very long.

Kusu Island, Dec 04

Sentosa, Oct 04

Narrow opening in a thick shell.
What do they eat? The dove snails commonly seen on our shores graze on algae. Those that live on seagrass are grazers, chomping up diatoms, sponges and other tiny animals on the seagrass blades, while also scraping some of the seagrass itself. Elsewhere, other species are carnivorous and may eat other molluscs, polychaete worms, crustaceans and ascidians.

Dove babies: Dove snails lay hemi-spherical eggs under rocks and other nooks and crannies.

Human uses: They are mainly collected for their colourful shells often made into necklaces for the tourist souvenir trade, although sometimes used for food.

Status and threats: None of our dove snails are listed among the threatened animals of Singapore due to habitat loss. However, like other creatures of the intertidal zone, they are affected by human activities such as reclamation and pollution. Trampling by careless visitors and overcollection can also have an impact on local populations.

Some Dove snails on Singapore shores

Family Columbellidae recorded for Singapore
from Tan Siong Kiat and Henrietta P. M. Woo, 2010 Preliminary Checklist of The Molluscs of Singapore.
+Other additions (Singapore Biodiversity Record, etc)

  Family Columbellidae

Anachis melitoma

Euplica scripta
(Dotted dove snail)

Mitrella brookei
+Mitrella essingtonensis
(Essington dove shell)
Mitrella moleculina
+Mitrella pudica
(Shy dove-shell)

Parametaria epamella
Parametaria philippinarum

^Pardalinops testudinaria=Pardalina testudinaria
(Turtle dove snail)

Pictocolumbella ocellata
(Lightning dove snail)

Pseudanachis basedowi

Pyrene flava
Pyrene punctata

+Retizafra intricata
(Complicated dove-shell)

Zafra atrata
Zafra minuscula
+Zafra ornata
(Adorned dove snail)
Zafra sulcosa



  • Chan Sow-Yan. Two small species of dove-shells found at East Coast Park: Mitrella pudica and Retizafra intricata. 30 August 2019. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2019: 110-111 ISSN 2345-7597. National University of Singapore.
  • Chan Sow-Yan & Lau Wing Lup. New record of adorned dove-shell, Zafra ornata, in Singapore. 30 August 2019. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2019: 105-107 ISSN 2345-7597. National University of Singapore.
  • Tan Siong Kiat, Tan Heok Hui & Iffah Iesa. 31 Oct 2017. First Singapore record of Essington dove shell, Mitrella essingtonensis. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2017: 138-139.
  • Tan Siong Kiat and Henrietta P. M. Woo, 2010 Preliminary Checklist of The Molluscs of Singapore (pdf), Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, National University of Singapore.
  • Wong, H. W., 2008. A new record of Mitrella moleculina (Duclos, 1840) (Gastropoda: Columbellidae) in Singapore, with notes on colour forms. Nature in Singapore, 1: 81–83..
  • Tan, K. S. & L. M. Chou, 2000. A Guide to the Common Seashells of Singapore. Singapore Science Centre. 160 pp.
  • Bunjamin Dharma. 1988. Indonesian shells (Siput dan Kerang Indonesia). PT Sarana Graha. Indonesia. 111 pp.
  • Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore. National Council on the Environment. 163pp.
  • Ng, P. K. L. & Y. C. Wee, 1994. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened Plants and Animals of Singapore. The Nature Society (Singapore), Singapore. 343 pp.
  • Abbott, R. Tucker, 1991. Seashells of South East Asia. Graham Brash, Singapore. 145 pp.
  • Coleman, Neville. 2003. 2002 Sea Shells: Catalogue of Indo-Pacific Mollusca Neville Coleman's Underwater Geographic Pty Ltd, Australia.144pp.
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