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.