Worm-Snail That Shoots Out Webs Like Spiderman Found On Shipwreck

Posted: Apr 5 2017, 12:39pm CDT | by , Updated: Apr 5 2017, 12:46pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Worm-Snail that Shoots Out Webs Like Spiderman Found on Shipwreck
Worm snail shell with mucus web. Credit: Rudiger Bieler, The Field Museum

The colorful snail species produces slimy substance from its glands and use it to trap its prey

Scientists have discovered a new species of worm-snail in the waters off Florida’s southern coast. And it’s not an ordinary one.

The new species is brightly colored, lives on shipwrecks and shoots spider web-like slimy substance to trap its prey. The new worm snail is not native to the region. It is likely an invasive species from Pacific Ocean where it has not yet been recognized.

Named Thylacodes vandyensis, new worm snail is one of the few species discovered in the artificial reefs grown off the coast of Florida’s Key. Invasive species unusually destroy the local ecosystem but this invasive marine animal can play an important role in protecting region’s artificial coral reefs.

"These worm-snails are particularly weird animals. And while we find lots of unusual snails, this one could have a substantial impact on coral reef restoration efforts.” Dr. Rüdiger Bieler, Curator of Invertebrates at Chicago's Field Museum who discovered the new species said.

While snails are generally known for their slow movement, worm-snails don't move at all. They stick to one spot and spend their entire life on it. That makes them good candidates to live on hard surfaces like ships and coral reefs.

When Bieler and other scuba divers of his team stumbled upon the new worm-snail living on a deliberately sunken ship, they immediately noticed its giant slime glands. Normally, snails produce thick, sticky substance from their glands to move themselves around. But since worm-snails do not move, researchers initially could not figure out their purpose. It turned out; these snails don’t use their slime to move but to hunt their prey.

“The snails have an extra pair of tentacles down near the base of their body, almost like little arms. These tentacles are what they use to shoot slime,” explains Bieler. “They shoot out a mucous web, just like Spiderman – although in slow motion. Then, microorganisms get stuck in the web, and the snails use their mouths to pull the web back in and strain the food through barbs on their tongues called radulae in order to eat.”

This ship is the only place the new worm-snails have ever been found and they have been possibly introduced to the region via cargo ships from some other place. And once they arrive, they are the perfect colonizers. The can coexist peacefully with other creatures that have been already living there.

“The living coral reefs in the Florida Keys are already full of animals, but the deliberately scuttled shipwrecks are empty, brand-new real estate,” said Bieler. “There were fewer organisms to compete with for space on the artificial reef, and fewer resident predators that could harm them.”

It is still unknown whether these foreign creatures are harmful for coral reefs and reduce their growth. But certainly their population on artificial reefs created from intentionally sunken ships provides an opportunity for researchers to monitor the impact of invasive species on coral reefs' health.

Worldwide coral reefs are already in great trouble and are struggling to adapt to warming temperatures, pollution and overfishing.

"The artificial reefs could serve as the canary in the coal mine,” said Bieler. “If we monitor their presence on the shipwrecks, we can keep tabs on them and potentially stop them from spreading to the living reefs."

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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