Snails Can Change Their Sex By Simple Touch, Says Study

Posted: Dec 26 2015, 8:39am CST | by , Updated: Dec 28 2015, 10:40pm CST, in News | Latest Science News


Snails Change their Sex when they Stay Together
Credit: Rachel Collin, STRI

When two males stay together and make a direct contact, they change into females, study reveals.

Sex-changing in animals is far more common than what was originally thought. Clownfish, wrasses, morey eels and gobies were already known for switching their sexes. The latest to enter the list is the slipper snail or tropical slipper limpet.

According to recent research, slipper snail has an incredible ability of changing sex. When two male snails stay together and touch each other, they turn into females. The larger snail changes into a female faster than the smaller one. Nevertheless, the end result is that a snail can change their sexes by a simple touch.

“I was blown away by this result,” said co-author Rachael Collin from Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). “I fully expected that snails would use waterborne cues to see their world.”

Tropical slipper limpets, scientifically, called Crepidula cf.marginalis, live under the rock along the seashore and feed on plankton and other particles from the water. There is built-in shelf inside their thin, flat shells and they resembled house slippers when flipped over.

Most of the time, slipper snails are found in clusters and there are instances when single or multiple males can be seen riding on the backs of a female snail as well. 

But why do males need to change their sex? Researchers suggest that this kind of sex change is advantageous because large animals can produce more eggs as females and there must be some internal communication which helps determine what is the right time and right size to become a female.

To see the process, researchers kept two males of different sizes in small cups and allowed them to be in contact with one another while other snail pairs were prevented from touching one another through a mesh barrier. Only the seawater was allowed to pass through in between them.

The larger snail pairs who made direct contact grew faster and changed into females sooner than those who were kept apart. It suggested that contact rather chemicals released into the water is necessary for changing sex. Though, researchers thought that snails are more dependent on waterborne chemical clues rather than interaction. But it turned out otherwise.

“Slipper snails don’t move around much, so you don’t really think of them having complex reactions to each other,” said Rachael Collins. “But this study shows that there is more going on there than we thought.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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