• consumption intensity;
  • fish feeding behaviour;
  • handling behaviour;
  • intertidal;
  • rocky shore;
  • size preference;
  • size refuge


Patellid limpets are key species on rocky shores, structuring intertidal assemblages through their grazing. Their role as prey for fish is, however, often overlooked in studies of intertidal ecosystem functioning. The shanny Lipophrys pholis is a common predator of limpets on rocky shores in Northern Europe and, in this study, we examined the characteristics of its predation on limpets based on prey size. The limpet size range that adult L. pholis (10–12.5 cm) can eat was examined in the laboratory using Patella depressa in 0.2 cm classes, varying between 0.5 cm and 3.0 cm in maximum shell length. There was a limpet size refuge above 1.8 cm, while all smaller sizes were readily consumed by the shanny. The predator attacking behaviour was also examined and found to vary with prey size. Limpets up to 0.8 cm were crushed by the jaw-constricting force and eaten whole, whereas larger prey were prised from the substratum and the body subsequently separated from the shell. To examine whether there was a L. pholis preference for P. depressa size, a two-stage laboratory experiment was done using two size classes defined as small (0.7–0.8 cm maximum shell length) and large (1.5–1.6 cm maximum shell length). In the first stage, the predator was given each limpet size class separately. In the second stage, the fish was given a choice between the two classes. Lipophrys pholis was shown to have a preference for the large size class (1.5–1.6 cm). The average number of limpets consumed by the shanny was examined for the duration of one high-tide typical of the central region of Portugal (≈ 4 h). On average, approximately five limpets (up to an eight limpet maximum) were consumed. The present study shows that L. pholis has a feeding preference based on limpet size, which suggests that the limpet population structure and intra- and inter-specific interactions may be influenced by the shanny predation.