Invasion History

First Non-native North American Tidal Record: 1873
First Non-native West Coast Tidal Record: 1873
First Non-native East/Gulf Coast Tidal Record:

General Invasion History:

The gribble Limnoria quadripunctata was described from the Netherlands by Holthuis in 1949 (Menizies 1957). Historically, most gribbles (wood-boring isopods) were identified as L. lignorum, a widespread Northern Hemisphere, cold-water species. However, taxonomic studies by Holthuis (1949b), Menzies (1957) and Cookson (1990) have described many species – Cookson lists 28, most of them tropical. Limnoria quadripunctata is mostly temperate-subtropical in its range (Menzies 1957), though records are known from the Philippines (Wallour 1960) and Belize (USNM 1088390, US Museum of Natural History 2007). In the Northeast Atlantic (Jones 1963) and Northeast Pacific (Carlton 1979; Cohen and Carlton 1995), L. quadripunctata is recognized as an introduced species. The temperate south Pacific is a possible native region, given the large number of records reported by Cookson (1990) from southern Australia, New Zealand, and a wide range on the coast of Chile (Haye et al. 2012). In Chile, L. quadripunctata bores extensively into Giant Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) as well as wood, so rafting on either is a potential mechanism of dispersal in the southern Hemisphere. Genetic analysis supports a rapid population expansion of L. quadripunctata in Chile in the late Pleistocene (Haye et al. 2012).

North American Invasion History:

Invasion History on the West Coast:

A Limnoria species, probably Limnoria quadripunctata, based on its thermal requirements and current distribution, appeared on the San Francisco waterfront in 1873 (Carlton 1979; Cohen and Carlton 1995). Since the species was not described until 1949, and was often identified as L. lignorum, its pattern of spread on the West Coast is not known. However, in 1949-51, it was found throughout California at La Jolla, Los Angeles-Long Beach Harbors, Port Hueneme, Santa Barbara Harbor, Morro Bay, Tomales Bay, Bodega Harbor, and Humboldt Bay (Barnard 1950; Menzies 1957; Wallour 1960). It was collected in Elkhorn Slough in 1935 (MacGinitie 1935, cited by Carlton 1979; Wasson et al. 2001) and in Monterey Bay by 1960 (Wallour 1960; Carlton 1979). Crescent City, California, is the current northern range limit for this species on the Pacific Coast (Lee and Miller, in Morris et al. 1980).

Invasion History Elsewhere in the World:

In the Northeast Atlantic, the presence of this species was not recognized until after its descriptions by Holthuis (1949b) and Menzies (1957). However, examination of preserved samples showed that L. quadripunctata was present in Plymouth, England, by 1930 (Jones 1963). In England, L. quadripunctata was present on the English Channel coast and in the Irish Sea as far north as Dublin, the Isle of Man, and Barrow-in-Furness (~54 N) (Jones 1963). It is also known from the Channel Islands (Jones 1963), the coast of Portugal (Noltin 1995, cited by Junoy and Castelló 2003; Borges et al. 2014c), and in the Mediterranean Sea, the Balearic Islands, Spain (Junoy and Castelló 2003), Banyuls-sur-Mer, France (Borges et al. 2014c) and Trieste, Italy (Menzies and Becker 1957, cited by Cookson 1990). In 2011, it was found in the Azores (Borges and Coata 2014; Borges et al. 2014c). Populations are also known from South Africa, where it is thought to be introduced (Hammersly-Heenan 1897, cited by Griffiths et al. 2011).

In the western Atlantic, L. quadripunctata was found in Bermuda (Wallour 1960) and Belize (in 1985, USNM 1088390, US Museum of Natural History 2009). In the southeast Pacific, L. quadripunctata was found in the wooden hull of a boat, and in suspended wood panels in Valparaiso, Chile in 1967 (Antezana 1968). However, this gribble was later found to be abundant and widespread in Giant Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) along a wide span of the Chilean coast, and probably a late-Pleistocene colonizer of the region (Haye et al. 2012).


Limnoria quadripunctata is a gribble, a small, marine, wood-boring isopod. Limnoria quadripunctata has a small, nearly cylindrical body. The cephalon (head region) is compressed and ovoid, with lateral eyes. The cephalon is distinct from the pereion (thoracic region) and freely rotates. Antennas 1 and 2 are equally anterior, with an obvious scale on Antenna 1. The flagellum of second antenna has 5 segments. The left mandible incisor lacks teeth, instead forming a projecting rasp-and-file device. Its uropods are greatly reduced, with the exopod much shorter than the endopod, and bearing an apical claw.

The anterior dorsal surface of the pleotelson bears four symmetrically arranged tubercles anteriorly. The lateral and posterior edges are not lined with tubercules. Adults are 3-4 mm long, white to pink in color when alive, and yellow when preserved in alcohol.

This description is based on: Holthuis 1949b, Menzies 1957, Cookson 1990, Brusca et al. 2007, and Castelló 2011.


Taxonomic Tree

Kingdom:   Animalia
Phylum:   Arthropoda
Subphylum:   Crustacea
Class:   Malacostraca
Subclass:   Eumalacostraca
Superorder:   Peracarida
Order:   Isopoda
Suborder:   Flabellifera
Family:   Limnoriidae
Genus:   Limnoria
Species:   quadripunctata


Limnoria carinata (Hicks, 1988)

Potentially Misidentified Species

Limnoria lignorum
Limnoria lignorum has a circumboreal distribution in the northern Atlantic and Pacific, and is presumed to be native throughout this range (Menzies 1957).

Limnoria tripunctata
Limnoria tripunctata is widespread and cryptogenic in most warm-temperate and tropical seas. It is introduced on the West Coast of North America, Hawaii, South Africa, New Zealand, and the British Isles (Menzies 1957; Jones 1963; Carlton 1979; Cranfield et al. 1998; Carlton and Eldredge 2009; Mead et al. 2011b).

Limnoria tuberculata
Limnoria tuberculata has been variously synonymized with or treated as a separate species from L. tripunctata. It was described from the Black Sea by Sowinsky in 1884. Menzies (1972) identified an apparently reproductively isolated population from Chatham, Massachusetts, as this species. Kensley and Schotte (Kensley and Schotte 1987; Kensley and Schotte 1989) have treated this name as the senior synonym of L. tripunctata, but used 'L. tripunctata' in Kensley et al. (1995). However, Cookson (1990) and Castelló (2011) treat L. tuberculata as a separate species. If it is a distinct species, its records are few and scattered, and little is known of its biology.



Limnoria quadripunctata is a gribble - a specialized wood-boring isopod. Sexes are separate and copulation is internal. Typically, in Limnoria spp., a single pair occupies a tunnel, with the female closer to the opening. The young are brooded by the female (Becker 1971). Limnoria quadripunctata in San Francisco Bay had an average brood size of 9.5 young per female (Kofoid and Miller 1927, cited by Eltringham and Hockley 1963). In England, Eltringham and Hockley (1963) found that L. quadripunctata boring in fresh test blocks had more young (11.4 young per female) than animals living in established pilings (4.7 per female).

Limnoria quadripunctata prefers temperate climates and marine salinities. Reproduction occurs at 12-19C, but development was unsuccessful at 25C (Jones 1963; Eltringham 1967). In experiments, this gribble had good survival at salinities of 36-48 PSU, but poor (15-50%) at 18 and 24 PSU (Eltringham 1961). Adults and juveniles swarm seasonally, and colonize new pieces of wood. They prefer rough surfaces of relatively soft wood, preferably infected by fungi (Becker 1971). In Southampton Water, England, migration began in spring at about 10C (Eltringham and Hockley 1963). Limnoria spp. digest non-cellulosic carbohydrates in wood, together with some cellulose, and excrete lignin in pellets, without the aid of gut microflora (Becker 1971; Sleeter et al. 1978). Limnoria spp. host a variety of protozoan epibionts and crustacean symbionts. At least one epibiont, the ciliate Mirofolliculina limnoriae slows the feeding, swimming and growth of Limnoria spp., and is regarded as an ectoparasite (Delgery et al. 2006).


Decaying wood and associated microbiota

Trophic Status:




General HabitatCoarse Woody DebrisNone
General HabitatMarinas & DocksNone
General HabitatVessel HullNone
Salinity RangePolyhaline18-30 PSU
Salinity RangeEuhaline30-40 PSU
Tidal RangeLow IntertidalNone
Vertical HabitatEpibenthicNone

Tolerances and Life History Parameters

Minimum Salinity (‰)24~50% survival for 65 days at 24 PSU, ~15% survival at 18 (Eltringham 1961)
Maximum Salinity (‰)48Experimental, Eltringham 1961
Minimum Reproductive Temperature12Jones 1963 (Field data)
Maximum Reproductive Temperature19Eggs did not reach hatching stage at 25 C (Eltringham 1967).
Maximum Length (mm)3.4Menzies 1957
Broad Temperature RangeNoneCold temperate-Warm temperate
Broad Salinity RangeNonePolyhaline-Euhaline

General Impacts

Limnoria quadripunctata is a wood-boring organism that damages wooden pilings and ship hulls in warm-temperate to tropical marine waters, around the world. It is rare or absent in ports where salinity drops below 20 PSU (Becker 1971; Lum 1981). Gribbles burrow long tunnels, about 1-2 mm in diameter, below the surface of wood, perforating it. Up to 30 Limnoria may live below one cm2 of wood surface. When the wood is thoroughly perforated, it is eroded by waves, and the borers penetrate further. Gribbles have a high oxygen requirement, so that boring is limited to the outer regions of wood. Part of the economic cost of these organisms is the cost and ecological damage of preventive measures, including the use of resistant tropical wood and chemical treatments for marinas, docks, and wooden boats to prevent damage by borers (Becker 1971; Coughlan 1977).

Economic Impacts

Shipping- Gribble damage to piers in San Francisco Bay was first reported in 1873, and was probably due to L. quadripunctata (Arnold 1873, cited by Carlton 1979; Cohen and Carlton 1995). In Swansea, Wales and Southampton Water, England, heated discharges of power plants prolonged the breeding period of Limnoria quadripunctata and L. tripunctata, increasing damage to wooden docks (Raymont 1976; Coughlan 1977). In Southampton Water, boring by the two Limnoria species removed 6-13% of untreated wooded test blocks (Coughlan 1977).

Regional Impacts

NEP-VNorthern California to Mid Channel IslandsEconomic ImpactShipping/Boating
Gribble damage to piers in San Francisco Bay was first reported in 1873, and was probably due to L. quadripunctata (Arnold 1873, cited by Carlton 1979).
P090San Francisco BayEconomic ImpactShipping/Boating
Gribble damage to piers in San Francisco Bay was first reported in 1873, and was probably due to L. quadripunctata (Arnold 1873, cited by Carlton 1979).
NEA-IINoneEconomic ImpactShipping/Boating
In Swansea, Wales and Southampton Water, England, heated discharge from power plants prolonged the breeding period of Limnoria quadripunctata and tripunctata , increasing damage to wooden docks (Raymont 1976; Coughlan 1977). In Southampton Water, boring by the two Limnoria species removed 6-13% of untreated wooded test blocks per year (Coughlan 1977).
NEA-VNoneEconomic ImpactShipping/Boating
Limnoria tripunctata and L. quadripunctata have become important and destructive woodborers in the Tagus estuary, Portugal (Borges et al. 2010).
CACaliforniaEconomic ImpactShipping/Boating
Gribble damage to piers in San Francisco Bay was first reported in 1873, and was probably due to L. quadripunctata (Arnold 1873, cited by Carlton 1979)., Gribble damage to piers in San Francisco Bay was first reported in 1873, and was probably due to L. quadripunctata (Arnold 1873, cited by Carlton 1979).

Regional Distribution Map

Bioregion Region Name Year Invasion Status Population Status
AUS-VIII None 0 Crypto Estab
AUS-IX None 0 Crypto Estab
AUS-VII None 0 Crypto Estab
AUS-VI None 0 Crypto Estab
AUS-V None 0 Crypto Estab
AUS-IV None 0 Crypto Estab
AUS-X None 0 Crypto Estab
AUS-XI None 0 Crypto Estab
NEA-II None 1948 Def Estab
NEA-V None 1995 Def Estab
NEA-III None 1930 Def Estab
MED-VII None 1957 Def Estab
NEP-V Northern California to Mid Channel Islands 1873 Def Estab
NEP-VI Pt. Conception to Southern Baja California 1949 Def Estab
NA-ET4 Bermuda 1960 Def Estab
EAS-III None 0 Crypto Estab
NZ-IV None 1913 Crypto Estab
NZ-VI None 0 Crypto Estab
NEP-IV Puget Sound to Northern California 1949 Def Estab
P050 San Pedro Bay 1950 Def Estab
P130 Humboldt Bay 1949 Def Estab
SEP-B None 1967 Crypto Estab
P080 Monterey Bay 1935 Def Estab
P090 San Francisco Bay 1873 Def Estab
P110 Tomales Bay 1948 Def Estab
P112 _CDA_P112 (Bodega Bay) 1949 Def Estab
CAR-II None 1985 Def Estab
P070 Morro Bay 1951 Def Estab
P022 _CDA_P022 (San Diego) 1949 Def Estab
P062 _CDA_P062 (Calleguas) 1949 Def Estab
P065 _CDA_P065 (Santa Barbara Channel) 1951 Def Estab
MED-II None 2003 Def Estab
P143 _CDA_P143 (Smith) 1980 Def Estab
NEA-IV None 1959 Def Estab
WA-IV None 1910 Def Estab
WA-V None 1897 Def Estab
NEA-VI None 2011 Def Estab
SEP-C None 2012 Crypto Estab
SEP-A' None 2012 Crypto Estab

Occurrence Map

OCC_ID Author Year Date Locality Status Latitude Longitude


Antezana, Tarsicio J. (1968) Limnoria quadripunctata Holthius (Crustacea, Isopoda), nuevo exponente de la fauna del pacifico sur-oriental., Revista Biologia Marina 13(3): 293-301

Barnard, J. Laurens (1950) The occurrence of Chelura terebrans Philippi in Los Angeles and San Francisco Harbors, Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Sciences 49(2): 90-96

Becker, Gunther (1971) On the biology, physiology, and ecology of marine wood-boring crustaceans., In: Gareth Jones, E. B.//Eltringham, S. K.(Eds.) Marine borers, fungi, and fouling organisms of wood.. , Brussels. Pp. 303-326

Borges, L. M. S. (2013) Biodegradation of wood exposed in the marine environment: Evaluation of the hazard posed by marine wood-borers in fifteen European sites, International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation 96: 97-104

Borges, L. M. S.; Valente, A. A.; Palma, P.; Nunes, L. (2010) Changes in the wood boring community in the Tagus Estuary: a case study, Marine Biodiversity Records 3: e41

Borges, Luisa M. S.; Costa, Filipe O. (2014) New records of wood-borers (Bivalvia: Teredinidae) and Isopoda, Limnoriidae) from Sao Miguel, Azores with a discussion of some aspects of their biogeography, Acoreana Supplement 10: 109-116

Borges, Luisa M. S.; Merckelbach, Lucas M.; Cragg, Simon M. (2014c) Biogeography of wood-boring crustaceans (Isopoda: Limnoriidae) established in European coastal waters, PLOS ONE 9(10): e109593

Boyd, Milton J.; Mulligan, Tim J; Shaughnessy, Frank J. (2002) <missing title>, California Department of Fish and Game, Sacramento. Pp. 1-118

Brusca, Richard C.; Coeljo, Vania R. Taiti, Stefano (2007) The Light and Smith Manual: Intertidal invertebrates from Central California to Oregon (4th edition), University of Calfiornia Press, Berkeley CA. Pp. 503-542

Carlton, James T. (1979) History, biogeography, and ecology of the introduced marine and estuarine invertebrates of the Pacific Coast of North America., Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Davis. Pp. 1-904

Carlton, James T. (Ed.) (2007) The Light and Smith Manual: Intertidal Invertebrates from Central California to Oregon Fourth Edition, Completely Revised and Expanded, University of California Press, Berkeley. Pp. <missing location>

Carlton, James T.; Eldredge, Lucius (2009) Marine bioinvasions of Hawaii: The introduced and cryptogenic marine and estuarine animals and plants of the Hawaiian archipelago., Bishop Museum Bulletin in Cultural and Environmental Studies 4: 1-202

Castelló, José (2011) The genus Limnoria (Limnoriidae, Isopoda, Crustacea) in Europe, including a key to species, Zootaxa 2968: 1-25

Chainho, Paula and 20 additional authors (2015) Non-indigenous species in Portuguese coastal areas, lagoons, estuaries, and islands, Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science <missing volume>: <missing location>

Cohen, Andrew N. and 10 authors (2005) <missing title>, San Francisco Estuary Institute, Oakland CA. Pp. <missing location>

Cohen, Andrew N.; Carlton, James T. (1995) Nonindigenous aquatic species in a United States estuary: a case study of the biological invasions of the San Francisco Bay and Delta, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Sea Grant College Program (Connecticut Sea Grant), Washington DC, Silver Spring MD.. Pp. <missing location>

Cohen, Andrew; and 16 authors. (1998) <missing title>, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Olympia, Washington. Pp. 1-37

Cookson, Laura J. (1990) Australasian Species of Limnoriidae (Crustacea: Isopoda), Memoirs of the Museum of Victoria 52(2): 137-262

Coughlan, J. (1977) Marine borers in Southampton Water, Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society 33: 5-15

Cranfield, H.J.; Gordon, D.P.; Willan, R.C.; Marshall, B.A; Battershill, C.N.; Francis, M.P.; Nelson, W.A.; Glasby, C.J.; Read, G.B. (1998) <missing title>, The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, New Zealand. Pp. <missing location>

Delgery, C.C.; Cragg, S.M.; Busch, S.; Morgan, E.A. (2006) Effects of the epibiotic heterotrich ciliate Mirofolliculina limnoriae and of moulting on faecal pellet production by the wood-boring isopods, Limnoria tripunctata and Limnoria quadripunctata., Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 334: 165-173

Eltringham, S. K. (1961) The effect of salinity on the boring activity and survival of Limnoria (Isopoda)., Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 41: 785-797

Eltringham, S. K. (1965) The respiration of Limnoria relative to salnity., Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 45: 145-152

Eltringham, S. K. (1967) The effects of temperature on the development of Limnoria eggs., Journal of Applied Ecology 4(2): 521-529

Eltringham, S. K.; Hockley, A. R. (1963) Migration and reproduction of the wood-boring isopod, Limnoria, in Southampton Water., Limnology and Oceanography 6(4): 467-282

Griffiths, C.L.; Mead, A.; Robinson, T.B. (2009) A brief history of marine bio-invasions in South Africa, African Zoology 44(2): 241-247

Griffiths, Charles, Robinson, Tamara; Mead, Angela (2011) In the wrong place- Alien marine crustaceans: Distribution, biology, impacts, Springer, Dordrecht, Netherlands. Pp. 269-282

Haye, Pilar A.; Varela, Andrea I.; Thiel, Martin (2012) Genetic signatures of rafting dispersal in algal-dwelling brooders Limnoria spp. (Isopoda) along the SE Pacific (Chile), Marine Ecology Progress Series 455: 111-122

Holthuis, L. B. (1949b) The Isopoda and Tanaidacea of the Netherlands, including the description of a new species of Limnoria, Zoologische Mededelingen 30(12): 163-190

Jones, Leslie T. (1963) The geographical and vertical distribution of British Limnoria., Journal of Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 43: 589-603

Junoy, J.; J. Castelló (2003) Catálogo de las especies ibéricas y baleares de isópodos marinos (Crustacea: Isopoda)., Boletin Insitituto Espanol de Oceanografia 19(1-4): 293-325

Kensley, Brian, Schotte, Marilyn (1987) New records of isopod crustacea from the Caribbean, the Florida Keys, and the Bahamas, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 100(1): 216-247

Kensley, Brian; Schotte, Marilyn (1989) <missing title>, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.. Pp. <missing location>

Lum, Joyce Ann Smith (1981) The distribution of the wood boring isopod Limnoria in Texas estuaries and bays in relation to environmental factors., Dissertation Abstracts International B. Science and Engineering 42(3): 874

Mead, A.; Carlton, J. T.; Griffiths, C. L. Rius, M. (2011b) Introduced and cryptogenic marine and estuarine species of South Africa, Journal of Natural History 39-40: 2463-2524

Menzies, R. J. (1972) Experimental interbreeding between geographically separated populations of the marine wood-boring isopod Limnoria tripunctata with preliminary indications of hybrid vigor., Marine Biology 17(2): 149-157

Menzies, Robert James (1957) The marine borer family Limnoriidae (Crustacea, Isopoda). Part I: Northern and Central America: Systematics, distribution, and ecology, Bulletin of Marine Science of the Gulf and Caribbean 7(2): 101-200

Morris, Robert H.; Abbott, Donald P.; Haderlie, Eugene (1980) <missing title>, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. Pp. <missing location>

Pillai, N. Krishna (1967) Proceedings of the symposium on Crustacea, Pt. V Marine Biological Association of India, <missing place>. Pp. 1274-1283

Raymont, J. E. G. (1976) Harvesting Polluted Waters, Plenum, New York. Pp. 185-199

Robinson, T. B.; Griffiths, C. L.; McQuaid, C. D.; Rius, M. (2005) Marine alien species of South Africa-- status and impacts, African Journal of Marine Science 27(1): 297-306

Sleeter, T. D.; Boyle, P. J.; Cundell, A. M.; Mitchell, R. (1978) Relationships between marine microorganisms and the wood-boring isopod Limnoria tripunctata, Marine Biology 45: 329-336

U.S. National Museum of Natural History 2002-2021 Invertebrate Zoology Collections Database.

Wallour, Dorothy Brown (1960) Thirteenth progress report on marine borer activity in test boards operated during 1959, William F. Clapp Laboratories, Duxbury, Massachusetts. Pp. 1-41

Wasson, Kerstin; Zabin, C. J.; Bedinger, L.; Diaz, M. C.; Pearse J. S. (2001) Biological invasions of estuaries without international shipping: the importance of intraregional transport, Biological Conservation 102: 143-153