Ask a Scientist: Aging Barnacles

Schnauzer Girl asks, “How can you tell how old a barnacle is?”

Great question, Schnauzer Girl! After consulting with a saltwater barnacle pet owner, I’m able to tell you relatively how old a barnacle is. A barnacle’s age can be estimated based on its size and color. Larger and darker colored barnacles are older, whereas smaller and lighter or whiter barnacles are younger. This darkening in color over time occurs because of the calcification of a barnacle’s shell. Calcification is when something, in this case the barnacle’s shell, hardens by turning into calcium. A barnacle’s hard, calcium shell helps to protect them from predators and harsh environments. A barnacle has to stay safe, too!


Want to learn more about barnacles and where they can live? Check out this video about barnacles that can live on sea turtles! For our younger explorers wanting to learn more about barnacles, here’s an animated clip from the PBS Kids show WILD KRATTS.

If you have any questions about animals for our scientists, you can submit them here.

Nicole W. Korzeniecki is a PhD student in the Animal Behavior Graduate Group at UC Davis. She is studying how termites work together with the bacteria in their gut to keep their colony healthy.

Main image taken and provided by: Laurens Johannes and Alexandra Dwulit. “A tiny saltwater aquarium barnacle with its backside tail visible. It uses this tail to attach itself to a surface in the tank, usually to the pump where there is [water] flow.”

[Edited by Nicole W. Korzeniecki]

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