Goose barnacle (Lepas anatifera)

Goose barnacles
Loading more images and videos...

Goose barnacle fact file

Goose barnacle description


Goose barnacles gave rise to one of the strangest of animal beliefs. The heart-shaped shell, or ‘capitulum’, is a chalky-white in colour and has black lines, which were thought to resemble the head of the barnacle goose Branta leucopsis. Because barnacle geese rarely nest in Britain no-one had ever seen their eggs or nests. It was supposed, therefore, that the geese ‘grew up on the planks of ships’ and the birds finally emerged clothed in feathers and flew away. This curious theory also provided a convenient way round the church’s ban on eating meat or flesh on Fridays. As the barnacle goose was obviously “not born of the flesh” but from a barnacle, they could be eaten not just on Fridays but throughout Lent!

Shell size: up to 50 mm
Stalk length: 40 – 900 mm

Goose barnacle biology

Goose barnacles are marine crustaceans but, unlike many other members of their class, they are hermaphrodites, meaning that the animal has both male and female sexual organs. Their eggs hatch into free-swimming larvae, which drift with the ocean currents as one of the immense number of animals that comprise zooplankton.

As they develop, the larvae attach themselves to an object by way of a strong stalk or ‘peduncle’. Once they have attached themselves to an object, they do not move again unless torn off by accident. As they grow they develop a feathery feeding apparatus, which filters particles of food from the water as the current passes over it. This filter can be speedily withdrawn inside the hard capitulum when the barnacle feels threatened.

If barnacles grow in sufficient numbers on the hull of a ship, they increase the vessel’s drag though the water and have to be removed when the ship is dry-docked. However, they were considered a great delicacy in some parts of the world. Even in Cornwall, if a boat arrived with clusters of barnacles attached to the hull, they were scrapped off and sold for food.


Goose barnacle range

Goose barnacles occur throughout most of the temperate seas of the world.

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Goose barnacle habitat

This species is found attached to rocks, the planking of wooden ships, on driftwood, discarded rope; in fact, anything floating or fixed. A related species has also been found attached to the bodies of whales.


Goose barnacle status



Goose barnacle threats

Goose barnacles are common around the British coast and, apart from the ever-present threat of marine pollution, are not presently endangered.


Goose barnacle conservation

As this species is not listed as threatened, there are currently no conservation programmes for goose barnacles.

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.


This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:


Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.



Image credit

Goose barnacles  
Goose barnacles

© Geoff Dore /

Nature Picture Library
5a Great George Street
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 117 911 4675
Fax: +44 (0) 117 911 4699


Link to this photo

Arkive species - Goose barnacle (Lepas anatifera) Embed this Arkive thumbnail link ("portlet") by copying and pasting the code below.

Terms of Use - The displayed portlet may be used as a link from your website to Arkive's online content for private, scientific, conservation or educational purposes only. It may NOT be used within Apps.

Read more about



MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite Arkive images and videos and share them with friends.

Play the Team WILD game:

Team WILD, an elite squadron of science superheroes, needs your help! Your mission: protect and conserve the planet’s species and habitats from destruction.

Conservation in Action

Which species are on the road to recovery? Find out now »

This species is featured in:

This is a UK rocky shore species. Visit our habitat page to learn more.

This species is featured in:

Help us share the wonders of the natural world. Donate today!


Back To Top