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Interesting Facts about Marine Snails

[Shelled Gastropods] [Phylum: Mollusca] [Class: Gastropoda] [Order: Stylommatophora] [Family: Subulinidae]

You can find this group of slow-moving marine gastropod mollusks living in every ocean. Even so, there are some key differences between the different species of these shelled organisms.

This section contains a collection of fun and interesting facts about sea snails and how their role in saltwater seas and oceans differs to that of their land-based counterparts.

Sea Snail Species Appearance and Behavior

Some people think the sea snail is a single species, while others often confuse them with sea slugs (nudibranchs).

In fact, even though the two classifications share some similarities, sea snails are gastropods with an operculum - a hard external shell.

The shell, usually spiral or cone shaped, helps to protect them against their natural predators (e.g. sea stars invertebrates).

For one reason or another, sea snail shells have significant variations in colour, size, and complexity. In most cases, the marine environment is going to determine how fast they grow.

Despite being one of the slowest of all living animals in the ocean, most sea snails discharge a white slimy mucus (mucopolysaccharide) as they travel. As a result, many use tentacles to feel different objects as they move around the seabed and the environment that surrounds them.

Note: Another section contains fun facts about sea butterflies and how they use 'wing-like' arms for swimming and movement.

Physical Structure of Aquatic Snails

The outer shell of a sea snail provides it with some protection from external threats, by hiding its soft body inside it. As a result, it is difficult for the majority of ocean predators to eat aquatic snail species.

Another interesting fact about sea snails is that they do not have normal teeth. Instead, they have a radula located inside their mouth which they use to scrape, grind, and tear apart their favourite food.

Sea Snails Facts and Species Information with PicturesA muscular organ (ventral foot) located underneath its body helps it move around the ocean floor.

In addition, marine snails use gills, found in the respiratory chamber of the mantle, for breathing.

Sea Snails Diet and Predators

Most species of marine snails feed on sea plants, algae, and seaweed. So, they are herbivores. Even so, some sea snails are omnivorous scavengers that eat other small animals, especially annelid worms and tiny fish for extra nutrients.

The algae and plants that grow on rocks and other solid surfaces form the main diet and sustenance for saltwater snails.

Here's the thing:

It's not uncommon for certain kinds of sea snail to also be a predator. For example, the deadly cone-shaped snail (conidae) is famous for its venomous sting. This species uses a "harpoon-like" stinger to neutralise and kill their prey with conotoxins.

Marine Snail Habitat and Distribution

Despite limited information being available, it seems that most oceans around the world will contain some species of water-based snails.

The inaccuracies around sea snail habitat and range occur because the specimens that live at the tide level (or low tide) often get classed as land snails.

Nonetheless, you can find examples of caenogastropoda around the rocky reefs and seagrass beds of the Atlantic, the Arctic, and the equatorial warm tropics of the Indian Ocean.

Most species will attach themselves to some kind of rock structure underwater. But, they will also hunt for food by burying themselves into the softer sediment of the sea floor.

Sea Snail Reproductive Process

Like many gastropod mollusks, saltwater sea snails reproduce via an external process and display a 'courtship' as part of the mating ritual.

As a result, the female produces eggs and engages in asexual reproduction. She will try to release the eggs around rocky outcrops or into the water column where fertilisation can take place.

Here's an interesting fact:

Terrestrial snails are mostly hermaphroditic. Whereas, sea snails are gonochoristic - meaning each sex contains a set of organs that it uses to reproduce.

In most cases, it takes up to four (4) weeks for sea snail eggs to hatch after they've been fertilised. Then, juvenile sea snails usually stay in the nest for another twelve (12) weeks to avoid being eaten.

Threats: Are Sea Snails Endangered?

Climate change, underwater pollution, and overfishing are having a detrimental effect on many sea creatures and delicate marine ecosystems.

In general, sea snails thrive best around rock and reef formations. Thus, any destruction of these reef ecosystems will reduce what was once a thriving population of ocean snails.

Important: Some of the world's biggest sea snails (e.g. the horse conch) are at risk of extinction. Furthermore, the World Conservation Organization (IUCN) updated the scaly-foot snail (found in the Indian Ocean) to the Red List of Endangered Species in July 2019.

Fun Facts about the Sea Snail

  • Some sea snails are carnivorous and they will eat other aquatic animals, including saltwater worms and small fishes.
  • Saltwater sea snails that have developed gills can still breathe in deep environments (e.g. up to 1000 metres below sea level).
  • Unlike their hermaphroditic land-based counterparts, each sex of gonochoristic sea snails has its own set of gonads.
  • Some sea snails can be very dangerous to humans because they contain deadly toxins (such as the venomous cone snail sting).
  • A marine gastropod mollusc in the superfamily Conoidea is one of the deadliest sea snails. In fact, a cone snail can kill many hundreds of humans with their deadly venom.

Related Information and Help Guides

Note: The short video [3:20 seconds] has some extra facts and information about the giant horse conch and blue hermit crabs.

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