Carrier Snails, Masquerading Mollusks of the Seafloor

by Owen James Burke

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Xenophora pallidula from the Comotes Sea in the Philippines (Photo: C.R. McClain via Deep Sea News)

No, this isn’t a cheap decoration from a seaside tchotchke shop bound by crazy glue, but an armored camouflage of Xenophoridae, a fearful but thrifty and otherwise defenseless family of snails.

Snails, despite their calloused outward shell, are pretty vulnerable little creatures, and Xenophorids would be no exception, if it weren’t for their ingeniously conceived armor.

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(Photo: C.R. McClain via Deep Sea News)

Xenophoridae, meaning “foreign-carrying,” travel along bedazzling themselves with whatever might protect, creating a cage so inconspicuous and inaccessible that it’s virtually impossible for a predator to even spot, let along get a hold of.

But how do they assemble this shield? Snails have mantles, mucous-like membranes which not only create suction to maintain their posts inside their shells, but contain a calcium carbonate-rich protein which, outside of the shell in water, functions as fast-acting crazy glue.

They’ve also been known to adorn themselves with sponges, tube worms, and sea squirts.

Dr. M over at Deep Sea News says he’s seen specimens carrying loads up to 5 times the size of their own shell. Here’s a picture of one that had glued a coral head onto its back:

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(Photo: Deep Sea News)

Read more at Deep Sea News — OB

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