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Fossil range: Early Palæozoic[1] - recent, although only common from Neogene[2]
"Cirripedia" from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur (1904). The crab at the centre is nursing the externa of the parasitic cirripede Sacculina
"Cirripedia" from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur (1904). The crab at the centre is nursing the externa of the parasitic cirripede Sacculina
Chthamalus stellatus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Crustacea
Class: Maxillopoda
Subclass: Thecostraca
Infraclass: Cirripedia
Burmeister, 1834



Thyrostraca, Cirrhopoda (meaning "tawny-footed"), Cirrhipoda, and Cirrhipedia.

A barnacle is a type of arthropod belonging to infraclass Cirripedia in the subphylum Crustacea, and is hence distantly related to crabs and lobsters. Barnacles are exclusively marine, and tend to live in shallow and tidal waters, typically in erosive settings. They are sessile suspension feeders, and have two nektonic larval stages.

Around 1,220 barnacle species are currently known.[3] The name "Cirripedia" is Latin, meaning "curl-footed".


File:Semibalanus balanoides upernavik 2007-07-05.ogg
Image:Semibalanus balanoides upernavik 2007-07-05.ogg

Barnacles are encrusters, attaching themselves permanently to a hard substrate. The most common, "acorn barnacles" (Sessilia) are sessile, growing their shells directly onto the substrate.[2] The order Pedunculata ("goose barnacles" and others) attach themselves by means of a stalk.[2]

Most barnacles are suspension feeders; they dwell continually in their shell - which is usually constructed of six plates[2] - and reach into the water column with modified legs. These feathery appendages beat rhythmically to draw plankton and detritus into the shell for consumption.[citation needed]

Other members of the class have quite a different mode of life. For example, members of the genus Sacculina are parasitic, dwelling within crabs.[4]

Although they have been found at water depths up to 600m,[2] most barnacles inhabit shallow waters, with 75% of species living in water depths of less than 100m,[2] and 25% inhabiting the Template:Wict zone.[2] Within the intertidal zone, different species of barnacle live in very tightly constrained locations, allowing the exact height of an assemblage above or below sea level to be precisely determined.[2]

Since the intertidal zone periodically desiccates, barnacles are well adapted against water loss. Their calcite shells are impermeable, and they possess two plates which they can slide across their aperture when not feeding. These plates also protect against predation.[verification needed]

Barnacles and limpets compete for space in the intertidal zone.

Barnacles are displaced by limpets and mussels, who compete for space. They also have numerous predators.[2]

They employ two strategies to overwhelm their competitors: "swamping", and fast growth. In the swamping strategy, vast numbers of barnacles settle in the same place at once, covering a large patch of substrate, allowing at least some to survive in the balance of probabilities.[2] Fast growth allows the suspension feeders to access higher levels of the water column then their competitors, and to be large enough to resist displacement; species employing this response, such as the aptly named Megabalanus, can reach 7 cm in length;[2] other species may grow larger still.

Competitors may include other barnacles, and there is (disputed) evidence that balanoid barnacles competitively displaced chthalamoid barnacles. Balanoids gained their advantage over the chthalamoids in the Oligocene, when they evolved a tubular skeleton. This provides better anchorage to the substrate, and allows them to grow faster, undercutting, crushing and smothering by the latter group.[5]

Life cycle

Barnacles have 2 distinct larval stages, the nauplius and the cyprid, before developing into a mature adult.

Nauplius stage

A fertilized egg hatches into a nauplius: a one eyed larva comprising a head and a telson, without a thorax or abdomen. This undergoes 6 molts before transforming into the bivalved cyprid stage. Nauplii are typically initially brooded by the parent, and released as free-swimming larvae after the first molt.

Cyprid stage

The cyprid stage lasts from days to weeks. During this part of the life cycle, the barnacle searches for a place to settle. It explores potential surfaces with modified antennules structures; once it has found a potentially suitable spot, it attaches head-first using its antennules, and a secreted glycoproteinous substance. Larvae are thought to assess surfaces based upon their surface texture, chemistry, relative wettability, colour and the presence/absence and composition of a surface biofilm; swarming species are also more likely to attach near to other barnacles. As the larva exhausts its finite energy reserves, so it becomes less picky in the sites it selects. If the spot is to its liking, it cementing down permanently with another proteinacous compound. This accomplished, it undergoes metamorphosis into a juvenile barnacle.

Adult stage

Typical acorn barnacles develop six[citation needed] hard calcareous plates to surround and protect their bodies. For the rest of their lives they are cemented to the ground, using their feathery legs (cirri) to capture plankton.

Once metamorphosis is over and they have reached their adult form, barnacles will continue to grow by adding new material to their heavily calcified plates. These plates are not moulted; however, like all ecdysozoans, the barnacle itself will still molt its cuticle[6].

Sexual reproduction

Most barnacles are hermaphroditic, although a few species are gonochoric or androdioecious. Typically, recently molted hermaphroditic individuals are receptive as females. Self-fertilization, although theoretically possible, has been experimentally shown to be rare in barnacles  [7] [8].

The sessile lifestyle of barnacles makes sexual reproduction difficult, as the organisms cannot leave their shells to mate. To facilitate genetic transfer between isolated individuals, barnacles have extraordinarily long penises, up to 15cm in length: the largest penis to body size ratio of the animal kingdom.[9]

Fossil record

File:Megabalanus on breccia.JPG
Miocene (Messinian) Megabalanus, smothered by sand and fossilised.

The geological history of barnacles can be traced back to the early Palaeozoic (in the order of 4-500 million years ago),[1] although they do not become common in the fossil record until the Neogene (last 20 million years). In part their poor preservation is due to their restriction to high-energy environments, which tend to be erosional - therefore it is more common for their shells to be ground up by wave action than for them to reach a depositional setting. It is also possible that the group was more minor in the past.[verification needed]

Barnacles can play an important role in estimating palæo-water depths. The degree of disarticluation of fossils suggests the distance they have been transported, and since many species have narrow ranges of water depths, it can be assumed that the animals lived in shallow water and broke up as they were washed down-slope. The completeness of fossils, and nature of damage, can thus be used to constrain the tectonic history of regions.[2]

In human culture

Barnacles were first fully studied and classified by Charles Darwin who published a series of monographs in 1851 and 1854. Darwin undertook this study at the suggestion of his friend Joseph Dalton Hooker, in order to thoroughly understand at least one species before making the generalisations needed for his theory of evolution by natural selection [10].

Corrosion caused partly by barnacles, considered biofouling.[verification needed]

Barnacles are of economic consequence as they often attach themselves to man-made structures, sometimes to the structure's detriment. Particularly in the case of ships, they are classified as fouling organisms.[citation needed]

Some barnacles are edible by humans, and goose barnacles (e.g. Pollicipes polymerus) are treasured as a delicacy in many Mediterranean countries.[citation needed] The resemblance of this barnacle's fleshy stalk to a goose's neck gave rise in ancient times to the notion that geese, or at least certain seagoing species of wild goose, literally grew from the barnacle.[citation needed] Most notably, the wild Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis), whose eggs and young were rarely seen by humans because it breeds in the remote Arctic, got its popular name because it was imagined to grow from gooseneck barnacles.[citation needed]


Goose Neck Barnacle

Some authorities regard Cirripedia as a full class or subclass, and the orders listed above are sometimes treated as superorders. This article follows Martin and Davis in placing Cirripedia as an infraclass of Thecostraca and in the following classification of cirripedes down to the level of orders [11][opinion needs balancing]:

Infraclass Cirripedia Burmeister, 1834

External links

  • Rock barnacle at Aquascope
  • Barnacles from the Marine Education Society of Australasia
  • Barnacles in Spain Article on barnacles in Spain, and their collection and gastronomy.
  • [1] Newcastle University's barnacle and biofouling information site.


File:Seepocke fg1.jpg
Balanidae, Mission Beach National Park, Queensland, Australia, 2002
  1. 1.0 1.1 Foster, B.A. & Buckeridge, J.S. 1987: Barnacle palaeontology. In Southward, A.J. (ed.): Barnacle Biology, 41-63. Balkema, Rotterdam.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 Doyle, P. (1997). "Miocene barnacle assemblages from southern Spain and their palaeoenvironmental significance". Lethaia. 29: 267–274. doi:10.1111/j.1502-3931.1996.tb01659.x. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)
  3. Walters, Martin & Johnson, Jinny. The World of Animals. Bath, Somerset: Parragon, 2007.
  4. Zimmer, Carl (2000), Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures, Free Press.
  5. Stanley, S.M. (2008). "Predation defeats competition on the seafloor". Paleobiology. 34 (1): 1–21. Retrieved 2008-05-13.
  6. Bourget, E. 1987 Barnacle shells: Composition, structure, and growth. In: Crustacean Issues 5: Barnacle Biology (A.J. Southward, ed). pp. 267-285. ISBN 90-6191-628-3
  7. "Barnacle general biology". Museum Victoria. 1996.
  8. Charnov, E.L. 1987. Sexuality and hermaphroditism in barnacles: A natural selection approach. In: Crustacean Issues 5: Barnacle Biology (A.J. Southward, ed). pp. 89-103. ISBN 90-6191-628-3
  10. Étienne Benson. "Charles Darwin". SparkNotes. Retrieved 2007-08-30.
  11. Joel W. Martin & George E. Davis (2001). An Updated Classification of the Recent Crustacea (PDF). Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

ca:Cirrípede de:Rankenfußkrebse fa:کشتی‌چسب gd:Bàirneach he:בלוטי ים lt:Ūsakojai nl:Rankpootkreeften no:Rur simple:Barnacle fi:Siimajalkaiset sv:Rankfotingar