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Phylum Mollusca > Class Gastropoda
Turban snails
Family Turbinidae
updated Oct 2019
if you learn only 3 things about them ...
The thick, chalky operculum resembles a cat's eye.
The pretty shell is often hidden under encrusting growths.
Some are threatened by over-collection.

Where seen? These tough snails are commonly seen on many of our rocky shores including on man-made sea walls. Smaller ones are also found under stones. Turban shells are not as well adapted to dry condictions as the Nerites and Periwinkles, and are thus generally found closer to the low water mark.

Features: 3-5cm. In some species, the shell does resemble an elegant turban! Although the Latin 'turbo' actually refers to a top, the spinning toy. The shells of are sometimes covered in encrusting lifeforms so that the texture and colours are hidden.

Sisters Island, Oct 11

Two different kinds of turban snails.
More easily distinguished by their operculum.

Sometimes, only the operculum
is seen on the shore.
Cat's eye: In most of the common turban snails, the operculum is smooth and hemi-spherical (rounded) on the side facing outwards. This possibly makes it difficult for crabs to get a grip and pry out the snail. The shape and markings of the operculum makes it look like a cat's eye so that is what it is sometimes called. Although their shells may appear boring and dull, the living animal can be in bright shades of green or blue. Under the large shell, peep little eyes and long tentacles.

Spurred turban snail
Cyrene Reef, Jul 12

Dolphin shell snail
Tanah Merah, Oct 09

Ribbed turban snail
Labrador, May 05
Sometimes confused with the Top shell snail (Family Trochidae) has a more pyramidal shell and a thin operculum made of a horn-like material. While the turban shell snail has a shell with more distinct whorls and a thick, chalky operculum. Here's more on how to tell apart turban and top shell snails.

What do they eat? Turban shells graze the algae that thrive on the rocks, scraping this off with their radula.

Human uses: In our region, the larger turban snails are collected for food and their mother-of-pearl shell. The large Giant green turban snail (Turbo mamoratus) is collected for food and its shell carved into ornaments and jewellery. In recent years, heavy commercial exploitation has depleted local populations.

Status and threats: The Tapestry turban shell (Turbo petholatus) is listed as 'Endangered' on the Red List of the threatened animals of Singapore. It has a smooth, brightly coloured shell in brown, green and yellow fine lines. According to the Singapore Red Data book: "Although never abundant, this species could be found up until the early 1970's but is now extremely rare. It needs to be protected from shell collectors".

Some Turban snails on Singapore shores

Operculum smooth, green centre with white and yellow margins,

Spiral ribs smooth without scales.

Operculum bumpy, green centre with
white and greyish margins. No yellow.

Spiral ribs rough with tiny scales.

Family Turbinidae recorded for Singapore
from Tan Siong Kiat and Henrietta P. M. Woo, 2010 Preliminary Checklist of The Molluscs of Singapore.
in red are those listed among the threatened animals of Singapore from Davison, G.W. H. and P. K. L. Ng and Ho Hua Chew, 2008. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened plants and animals of Singapore.

  Family Turbinidae

Angaria delphinus (Dolphin snail)

Astralium calcar
(Spurred turban snail)=Astraea calcar

Guildfordia triumphans

Liotina peronii

Tricolia fordiana

Turbo bruneus
(Dwarf turban snail)
Turbo heterocheilus
Turbo intercostalis
(Ribbed turban snail)
Turbo marmoratus
Turbo petholatus
(Tapestry turban snail) (EN: Endangered)

  • Dwarf Turban Shell (Turbo brunneus) Tan, Leo W. H. & Ng, Peter K. L., 1988. A Guide to Seashore Life. The Singapore Science Centre, Singapore. 160 pp.
  • Family Turbinidae on The Gladys Archerd Shell Collection at Washington State University Tri-Cities Natural History Museum website: brief fact sheet with photos.
  • The Humble Operculum: photos and facts just some beautiful opercula of snails, many of which are turban shells, with photos also of their shells. A fascinating site.
  • Family Turbinidae in the Gastropods section by J.M. Poutiers in the FAO Species Identification Guide for Fishery Purposes: The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific Volume 1: Seaweeds, corals, bivalves and gastropods on the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) website.


  • Chan Sow Yan & Leo Nguang. Recent record of the turban snail, Turbo heterocheilus, at Changi. 31 March 2017. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2017: 33-34 ISSN 2345-7597. National University of Singapore.
  • Tan Heok Hui & Tan Siong Kiat. 30 May 2014. Colour forms of the tapestry turban snail in Singapore waters, Turbo petholatus. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2014: 148-149
  • Tan Siong Kiat & Martyn E. Y. Low. 6 December 2013. A record of the green turban Turbo marmoratus in Singapore. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2013: 102-103.
  • 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.
  • Tan, K. S. & L. M. Chou, 2000. A Guide to the Common Seashells of Singapore. Singapore Science Centre. 160 pp.
  • Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore. National Council on the Environment. 163pp.
  • Davison, G.W. H. and P. K. L. Ng and Ho Hua Chew, 2008. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened plants and animals of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore). 285 pp.
  • Abbott, R. Tucker, 1991. Seashells of South East Asia. Graham Brash, Singapore. 145 pp.
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