Saturday, March 31, 2012

Flamingo Tongue Snail

The Flamingo Tongue Snail, Cyphoma gibbosum, has a unique orange spotted pattern to what appears to be the outside of its shell.  But don’t be fooled!  The appealing bright coloration seen is part of the snail’s body.  Flamingo Tongue Snails wrap their mantel around the actual shell.  Surprisingly the shell itself is just plain white.  This might seem kind of strange, but there is a good reason behind this adaptation.  The orange spotted pattern is a warning sign for predators, because the body of the snail is toxic.  By wrapping the mantel of the snail around the shell, it allows potential predators to get a small taste of the toxins if the snail can not retract the mantel in enough time.  This turns the predators away and leaves little to no damage done to the shell.  The exposed mantle not only acts as a warning, but is also a tool used for respiration.  In fact the mantel functions as gills to bring oxygen in and to let carbon dioxide out.   
   
 
However, the Flamingo Tongue snail is not born toxic.  These animals are found in the Caribbean and southern Atlantic on coral reefs.  They feed on gorgonian octocorals.  The gorgonian octocorals contain high amounts allelochemicals, which are toxic to many other animals.  This snail also lays its eggs in the gorgonian corals.  They use the toxicity of the corals to protect the eggs from predators.  The hogfish, pufferfish, and Caribbean spiny lobster are some of the few natural predators of this snail.  Studies have shown that humans have recently been the greatest predator to this snail.  Divers have been over collecting this animal for its smooth white shell and some even collect the snails because they mistake the orange coloration as the shell.  


6 comments:

  1. I never knew snail that would rather be on the outsides of their shell. Very interesting defense mechanism. Do the snails have some sort of immunity or way of coping with the allelochemicals so they don't die from eating them?

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  2. I actually came across this animal when I was looking for something for my last post. I thought they were really interesting. But I did not read far enough at the time to know that the coloration was actually their mantle covering their shell. Now I think they are even more interesting. Also, I think it is neat that they are able to feed on gorgonian octocorals, because they are toxic to so many other animals.

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  3. I wish that was the color of their shell and that I could find one that color because those are awesome. But it is also cool how they have adapted to put their mantle on the outside of their body to protect themselves from predators. How long does it take the snails to develop their toxicity? Also, when the organism is preyed upon does the predator eat just its mantle and retract the shell or do they eat the entire shell due to the mantle usually being on the outside? Was not sure if you came across that, but very interesting snail right here! :)

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  4. Mary, all I can find on how they cope with the toxin is that they are immune to it and that instead of digesting the chemical, they store it in their tissue.
    Angie, from the reading that I have done, I got the understanding that has soon as the snail hit the juvenile stage was when it started to feed on the gorgonian corals. It doesn't say exactly how long it takes before they become toxic themselves, but it does say that as they eat the toxins are stored in the tissue. I would imagine that the more the eat the more toxins they can store to become more toxic in general. So far I haven't come across anything about whether the predators eat the shell or not. It is a very good question and I will keep searching and let you know if I find any on it.

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  5. I think this is absolutely fascinating! The fact that these little things are not born toxic but absorb the toxins they eat is really interesting. Do you know if studies show whether this is a purposeful feeding strategy or not?

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  6. This is quite the multi-tasker. It's odd enough that this not-so-reclusive snail prefers life outside of its shell rather than inside. By doing this, it is it's number one line of defense and method of respiration. Both of these are vital and this snail seems to do a great job at both. Incredible creature.

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