Tellina tenuis, photographed by Paul Naylor.

Belongs within: Tellinoidea.

Tellina is a genus of burrowing heterodont bivalves that first appeared in the Lower Cretaceous. The shell is somewhat elongate with an external ligament and more or less unequal valves. In life, they lie obliquely in the substrate on their left valve with the more inflated and convex right valve upwards (Beesley et al. 1998). Tellina species burrow deeper than many other heterodonts, using their elongate siphons to feed from surface sediments.

Digging for Tellina
Published 24 December 2019

When I was a child, a large part of my extended family would gather over the Christmas period to park their tents and caravans alongside the estuary downhill from my great-grandparents’ house (in the usual way of these things, my memory has these summer camping periods lasting for ages, but I don’t think they could have been longer than a week or so). While we were there, I would spend a fair chunk of the day looking for the wildlife that inhabited the slightly muddy estuary beach. Among these were various bivalves whose shells could be found littering the shoreline, or which might be found by digging in the sand at low tide. Close to the surface were New Zealand cockles Austrovenus stutchburyi (not actually a direct relative of the English cockle but a member of the Veneridae family that has adopted a similar body form). A little deeper were pipis and tuatuas. And a little deeper again were the flat, slender shells of Tellina.

Thin tellin Tellina tenuis, copyright S. Rae.

I should note that Tellina species are not really deep burrowers in the grand scheme of things, generally only embedding themselves about one to three centimetres below the surface, but again I must ask that you make allowances for childhood memories. Their low profile and weakly inflated shells also make them fast diggers so they were probably able to elude most casual explorations. Like most subsurface bivalves, Tellina species are sediment feeders. Their usual aspect is lying horizontally beneath the sediment, extending their long, unfused siphons to the surface to gather detritus (Ujino & Matuskuma 2010; the shells of Tellina are usually twisted slightly to one side at the end to facilitate the siphons’ passage). Even if you’ve not seen the Tellina animals themselves, you may have seen the radiating trails made by the siphons as they extend along the top of the sediment.

Sunrise tellin Tellina radiata, copyright James St. John.

Tellina is an extremely diverse genus, with species found worldwide and recognised through the entirety of the Mesozoic (Moore 1969). These species vary greatly in appearance, with shells varying from almost completely smooth to strongly ornamented, and from subcircular to quite elongate. It should therefore come as little surprise that numerous attempts have been made to divide Tellina between various subgenera and genera but issues such as homoeomorphy in Tellina‘s evolution (where distinct lineages have converged on similar body forms) have lead to disagreement over the best system to adopt. In 1934, the malacologist A. E. Salisbury complained that, “The number of genera, subgenera, and sections into which the Tellinidae has been cut up is getting somewhat appalling; the list of names is still increasing every year, and, if every variation of form is magnified, it is quite possible to go on until at last each species becomes the representative of a different genus and each variety that of a subgenus” (of course, as seems almost inevitable when one encounters complaints of this kind, Salisbury himself then proceeds to add to the tally of generic names in that same paper). Though I suspect most modern malacologists would probably disagree with the extremely broad concept of Tellina advocated by Salisbury, the question of how best to handle the genus taxonomically remains an open one.

Systematics of Tellina
Tellina Linnaeus 1758L58 [incl. Maoritellina Finlay 1926P61, F26]
|--T. (Cadella) semitorta Sowerby 1866S-S90
|--T. (Laciolina) chloroleucaBRW98
|--T. (Macomona Finlay 1927)BRW98, P61
| |--T. (*M.) liliana Iredale 1915P61 [=Macoma lilianaF26]
| |--T. (M.) basedowiF26
| `--T. (M.) deltoidalisBRW98
|--T. (Merisca) ostracea Lamarck 1818S-S90
|--T. (Peronaeoderma) ochraceaC64
|--T. (Pharaonella) perna Spengler 1798K90
|--T. (Phyllodina) pristiphora Dall 1900PP78
|--T. (Pinguitellina)S-S90
| |--T. (P.i) murrayi Smith 1885S-S90
| `--T. (P.) robusta Hanley 1844K90 [=Arcopagia robustaH09]
|--T. (Scutarcopagia) scobinata Linnaeus 1758BRW98, H09 [=Arcopagia scobinataH09]
|--T. (Semelangulus) tenuilirata Sowerby 1868S-S90
|--T. (Smithsonella)S-S90
| |--T. (S.) pulcherrima Sowerby 1825S-S90
| `--T. (S.) verrucosa Hanley 1844S-S90
|--T. (*Tellinangulus) aethiopicus (Thiele & Jaeckel 1931)S-S90
|--T. (Tellinella Moerch 1853)K90, P61
| |--T. (*T.) virgata Linnaeus 1758BRW98, P61, H09
| |--T. (T.) charlottae Smith 1885F26, P61 (see below for synonymy)
| |--T. (T.) cumingii Hanley 1844PP78
| |--‘Tellinella’ eugonia (Suter 1913)P61
| |--‘Tellinella’ huttoni (Smith 1885)P61
| | |--T. h. huttoniP61
| | `--T. h. sterrha (Suter 1913)P61
| `--T. (T.) staurella Lamarck 1818S-S90
`--T. (Tellinides) cockburnensis Brearley & Kendrick 1984S-S90

Tellina incertae sedis:
T. agilisK-MM02
T. albaH86
T. albida Linnaeus 1758L58
T. alternataWE63
T. ampullaceaPB27
T. arctataC64
T. asperrima Hanley 1844H09
T. aurea Perry 1811H09
T. australis Deshayes 1855H09
T. balaustina Linnaeus 1758L58
T. balthica Linnaeus 1758L58 [incl. T. fuscaC64]
T. bimaculata Linnaeus 1758L58
T. bodegensis [incl. T. emacerata]C64
T. botanicaBRW98
T. buttoniBRW98
T. calcarea [incl. T. lata, T. proxima, T. sabulosa, Psammobia sordida, T. triangularis]J64
T. californicaC64
T. candeanaG79
T. capsoides Lamarck 1818H09
T. caribaeaWE63
T. carnaria Linnaeus 1758L58
T. compacta Smith 1885H09
T. crassiplicata Sowerby 1758BW09
T. crucigera Lamarck 1818BW09
T. cruentae Lightfoot 1786K65
T. dariena Conrad 1855C64
T. diegoana Conrad 1855C64
T. digitaria Linnaeus 1758L58
T. diluta Smith 1885H09
T. dispar Conrad 1837H09
T. distortaPP64
T. divaricata Linnaeus 1758L58
T. donaciformis Deshayes 1855H09
T. elucens Mighels 1844J49
T. emarginata Sowerby 1825H09
T. exculta Gould 1850BW09
T. exilisG79
T. fabagellaC64
T. fabulaPP64
T. fabuloidesPP64
T. fausta [incl. T. laevis]G79
T. felixC64
T. foliacea Linnaeus 1758BRW98, H09 [=Phylloda foliaceaH09]
T. fragilis Linnaeus 1758L58
T. gargadia Linnaeus 1758H09
T. gemma [incl. T. pedroana Conrad 1855]C64
T. gruneri [incl. T. inornata, T. interstriata]G79
T. hanleyi [incl. T. rubescens]C64
T. imbellisBRW98
T. incarnata Linnaeus 1758L58
T. inconspicua Broderip & Sowerby 1829F27 [=Macoma inconspicuaC64; incl. Sanguinolaria californianaC64]
T. inflata Gmelin 1791H09
T. interrupta [incl. T. listeri, T. maculosa]G79
T. iridescens (Benson 1842) [=Sanguinolaria iridescens]H09
T. lactea Linnaeus 1758L58
T. laevigata Linnaeus 1758L58
T. laminataC64
T. languida Smith 1885H09
T. lubrica Gould 1861C64
T. lutea [incl. T. alternidentata, T. guilfordiae]C64
T. lux Hanley 1844H09
T. magna Spengler 1789B64
T. margaritinaBRW98
T. marginalis Lightfoot 1786K65
T. mariae Tenison Woods 1876TW76
T. muricataC64
T. mutata Finlay 1927 (see below for synonymy)F27
T. nasutaC64
T. nitidaPP64
T. ocoyana Conrad 1855C64
T. ovalisBRW98
T. patagiataL96
|--T. p. patagiataL96
`--T. p. mauritiana Viader 1951L96
T. pharaonis Hanley 1844H09
T. philippii Philippi 1844H09
T. philippinarum Hanley 1844H09
T. pisiformis Linnaeus 1758L58 [incl. Cardium discorsC64]
T. planata Linnaeus 1758L58
T. princepsC64
T. procrita Melvill & Standen 1899H09
T. puellaC64
T. pulchellaPP64
T. punicea [incl. T. angulosa, Donax martinicensis, T. striata]G79
T. pura Gld. 1851 [incl. T. mazatlanica]C64
T. purpureaC64
T. radiata Linnaeus 1758L58
T. ralphi Finlay 1927 [=T. aequilatera Tate 1887 non Koch & Dunker 1837]F27
T. remies Linnaeus 1758H09
T. rhomboides Quoy & Gaimard 1835H09
T. rostrata Linnaeus 1758L58
T. rotundata Montagu 1803F27
T. ‘rotundata’ Sowerby 1867 non Montagu 1803F27
T. ‘rotundata’ Boettger 1875 nec Montagu 1803 nec Sowerby 1867F27
T. rufescensG79 [incl. T. opercularisC64, T. operculataG79]
T. rugosa Born 1780H09
T. sectaC64
T. semen Hanley 1845H09
T. serrataPP64
T. sexradiataG79
T. simulansC64
T. sinceraC64
T. solenella Deshayes 1855H09
T. solidulaC64
T. squamulosa Adams 1850H09
T. subtruncata Hanley 1844H09
T. sulcata Wood 1815H09
T. sybariticaC73
T. tenuisM62
T. trifasciata Linnaeus 1758L58
T. vernalis Hanley 1844H09
T. virgulata Hanley 1845H09

Tellina mutata Finlay 1927 [=T. rotunda Martin 1887 nec T. rotundata Montagu 1803 nec Sowerby 1867 nec Boettger 1875]F27

Tellina (Telinella) charlottae Smith 1885F26, P61 [=*Maoritellina charlottaeF26, Serratina charlottaePG98; incl. Tellinella ferrariP61]

*Type species of generic name indicated


[BRW98] Beesley, P. L., G. J. B. Ross & A. Wells (eds) 1998. Fauna of Australia vol. 5. Mollusca: The Southern Synthesis. Part A. Australian Biological Resources Study: Canberra.

[B64] Boss, K. J. 1964. Notes on a hybrid Tellina (Tellinidae). Nautilus 78 (1): 18–21.

[BW09] Bryce, C., & C. Whisson. 2009. The macromolluscs of Mermaid (Rowley Shoals), Scott and Seringapatam Reefs, Western Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum Supplement 77: 177–208.

[C73] Camp, D. K. 1973. Stomatopod Crustacea. Memoirs of the Hourglass Cruises 3 (2): 1–100.

[C64] Carpenter, P. P. 1864. Supplementary report on the present state of our knowledge with regard to the Mollusca of the west coast of North America. Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science 33: 517–686.

[F26] Finlay, H. J. 1926. A further commentary on New Zealand molluscan systematics. Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute 57: 320–485.

[F27] Finlay, H. J. 1927. New specific names for austral Mollusca. Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute 57: 488–533.

[G79] Guppy, R. J. L. 1879. First sketch of a marine invertebrate fauna of the Gulf of Paria and its neighbourhood. Part I.—Mollusca. Journal of Conchology 2: 151–172.

[H09] Hedley, C. 1909. The Marine Fauna of Queensland: Address by the President of Section D. Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science: Brisbane.

[H86] Hutton, F. W. 1886. The Mollusca of the Pareora and Oamaru systems of New Zealand. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales, series 2, 1 (1): 205–237.

[J64] Jeffreys, J. G. 1864. The Upper Tertiary fossils at Uddevalla, in Sweden. Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science 33 (Notices and Abstracts): 73–79.

[J49] Johnson, R. I. 1949. Jesse Wedgwood Mighels with a bibliography and a catalogue of his species. Occasional Papers on Mollusks 1 (14): 213–231.

[K65] Kay, E. A. 1965. The Reverend John Lightfoot, Daniel Solander, and the Portland Catalogue. Nautilus 79 (1): 10–19.

[K90] Kendrick, G. W. 1990. A Pleistocene molluscan fauna with Anadara trapezia (Deshayes) (Bivalvia: Arcoida) from the Dampier Limestone of Shark Bay, Western Australia. In: Berry, P. F., S. D. Bradshaw & B. R. Wilson (eds) Research in Shark Bay: Report of the France-Australe Bicentenary Expedition Committee pp. 33–48. Western Australian Museum.

[K-MM02] Klein-MacPhee, G., & R. S. McBride. 2002. Sea robins. Family Triglidae. In: Collette, B. B., & G. Klein-MacPhee (eds) Bigelow and Schroeder’s Fishes of the Gulf of Maine 3rd ed. pp. 338–345. Smithsonian Institute Press: Washington.

[L58] Linnaeus, C. 1758. Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata. Laurentii Salvii: Holmiae.

[L96] Loch, I. 1996. Notice: R. Viader collection. Molluscan Research 17: 110.

[M62] Monniot, F. 1962. Recherches sur les graviers a Amphioxus de la région de Banyuls-sur-Mer. Vie et Milieu 13: 231–322.

Moore, R. C. (ed.) 1969. Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology pt N. Mollusca 6. Bivalvia vol. 2. The Geological Society of America, Inc., and The University of Kansas.

[PP64] Peres, J. M., & J. Picard. 1964. Nouveau manuel de bionomie benthique de la mer Mediterranee. Recueil des Travaux de la Station Marine d’Endoume, Bulletin 31 (27): 5–137.

[PB27] Pilsbry, H. A., & J. Bequaert. 1927. The aquatic mollusks of the Belgian Congo, with a geographical and ecological account of Congo malacology. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 53 (2): 69–602, pls 10–77.

[PP78] Poorman, F. L., & L. H. Poorman. 1978. Additional molluscan records from Bahía de Los Angeles, Baja California Norte. Veliger 20 (4): 369–374.

[S-S90] Slack-Smith, S. M. 1990. The bivalves of Shark Bay, Western Australia. In: Berry, P. F., S. D. Bradshaw & B. R. Wilson (eds) Research in Shark Bay: Report of the France-Australe Bicentenary Expedition Committee pp. 129–157. Western Australian Museum.

[TW76] Tenison Woods, J. E. 1876. Description of new Tasmanian shells. Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania 1875: 134–162.

Ujino, S., & A. Matsukuma. 2010. Inverse life positions of three species in the genus Cadella (Bivalvia: Tellinidae). Molluscan Research 30 (1): 25–28.

[WE63] Warmke, G. L., & D. S. Erdman. 1963. Records of marine mollusks eaten by bonefish in Puerto Rican waters. Nautilus 76 (4): 115–120.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *