Field of Science

Key Limpets

On two occasions before, I've presented you with members of the Fissurellidae, the keyhole and slit limpets. It's time for a return visit to the fissurellids, in the form of the diverse keyhole limpet genus Diodora.

Various views of shell of Diodora italica, copyright H. Zell.

Species have been assigned to Diodora from coastal waters pretty much around the world except for the coolest regions. They are small to moderate-size limpets, the largest species growing about three centimetres in length and two centimetres in height. The shell opens through a 'keyhole' at the apex through which the animal ejects waste matter and water that has been passed over the gills. The internal margin of this keyhole is surrounded by a callus on the underside of the shell; a distinguishing feature of Diodora is that this callus is posteriorly truncate. The external ornament of the shell is cancellate (arranged in a criss-cross pattern) and the margin of the shell is internally crenulated (Moore 1960). Moore (1960) listed three subgenera of Diodora distinguished by features of the keyhole shape and position but Herbert (1989) notes that these subgenera are not clearly distinct. A phylogenetic analysis of the fissurellids by Cunha et al. (2019) did recognise a clade including the majority of Diodora species analysed. However, species from the eastern Pacific formed a disjunct clade that may prove to warrant recognition as a separate genus.

As far as is known, Diodora species have a long lifespan, surviving for some ten to twenty years. They do not have a planktonic larva; young Diodora hatch directly from the egg as benthic crawlers. For the most part, they are presumed to graze on algae in the manner of other fissurellids and limpets. However, the northeastern Australian species D. galeata has been found feeding on the soft tissues of coral (Stella 2012), a habit that went unrecognised until fairly recently owing to the animal's cryptic nature, hiding deep among the branches of the host. Whether other Diodora species might exhibit similar lifestyles would require further investigation.


Cunha, T. J., S. Lemer, P. Bouchet, Y. Kano & G. Giribet. 2019. Putting keyhole limpets on the map: phylogeny and biogeography of the globally distributed marine family Fissurellidae (Vetigastropoda, Mollusca). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 135: 249–269.

Herbert, D. G. 1989. A remarkable new species of Diodora/i> Gray, 1821 from south-east Africa (Mollusca: Gastropoda: Fissurellidae). Annals of the Natal Museum 30: 173–176.

Moore, R. C. (ed.) 1960. Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology pt I. Mollusca 1. Mollusca—general features, Scaphopoda, Amphineura, Monoplacophora, Gastropoda—general features, Archaeogastropoda and some (mainly Paleozoic) Caenogastropoda and Opisthobranchia. Geological Society of America, Inc. and University of Kansas Press.

Stella, J. S. 2012. Evidence of corallivory by the keyhole limpet Diodora galeata. Coral Reefs 31: 579.

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