#WeirdAnimalWednesday: Don’t Be Fooled by the Flamingo Tongue Snail’s Appearance

posted: 08/05/15
by: Danny Clemens
Flamingo tongue snail
Wild Horizons/UIG via Getty Images

The flamingo tongue snail (Cyphoma gibbosum) is a frighteningly over-collected little creature. Enticed by its vivid yellow spots, scuba divers have been plucking the snail from the ocean to sell its shell for use in crafts and jewelry for decades.

There's just one problem: the snail's shell isn't actually spotted.

At any given moment, C. gibbosum extends mantle tissue over its shell. The retractable mantle tissue is actually responsible for the snail's dramatic coloration, which serves as a deterrent to any potential predators. Only when the snail feels threatened does it withdraw the mantle tissue back into the confines of the shell, revealing its simple, beige-colored housing.

The mantle tissue also serves another protective purpose. Unlike many other sea creatures, the flamingo tongue snail is immune to the toxic substances that usually protect its prey of choice -- gorgonian coral -- from predation. After C. gibbosum dines on coral, it sequesters the toxins in its mantle tissue, therefore giving potential predators yet another reason to stay away.

Despite its smattering of anti-predator mechanisms, however, the flamingo tongue snail still falls victim to pufferfish, rock lobsters, hogfish, and, of course, humans. Recent research suggests that these predators are integral in protecting coral populations. Removal of its natural predators from some ecosystems has had a devastating impact on gorgonian coral populations, as the snails are left to feed on the coral unchecked.

Endemic to the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, C. gibbosum grows to be approximately an inch long.

Check out last week's #WeirdAnimalWednesday: the star-nosed mole

Learn more about coral:

show more details
Coral Seas: Reef at Night

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