Saturday, August 18, 2012

Introducing Slipper Snails

A lot of the research in the Collin Lab focuses on slipper snails (sometimes called slipper limpets or slipper shells).  I like to refer to them as slipper snails because they are more than just a shell; they are really cool and complicated animals. 

The Latin name for the genus of slipper snails is Crepidula.

Slipper snails and their relatives all belong to a single family, the Calyptraeidae.  Future posts will explain the questions we are trying to answer, the methods we employ, and some of the things we have discovered. But for now, here are a few quick facts as an introduction to my favorite snails.

New species are being discovered all the time. At the moment, there are about 200 species of calyptraeids.  That is, there are 200 species that have been officially described and named, and which biologists agree represent distinct species.  But nobody really knows how many species have yet to be discovered.

I described and named Crepidula ustulatulina in 2002.

Slipper snails change sex.  Small young animals first develop as males. As they grow they gradually change to become female.  Once female they cannot change back.  This kind of sex change - from male to female - is known as protandry.  Sex change from female to male, which is seen in a number of fishes is known as protogyny.

Slipper snails do not move around much. They don’t have to because they are filter feeders –in other words they filter particles out of the water for food – so they don’t have to search for food.   They attach themselves to the substrate and hunker down in the face of adversity. 

Crepidula fornicata
They often just look like bumps on a rock.

The most important aspect of calyptraeid biology, from the point of view of our research, is that slipper snails display an amazing diversity in how they develop from eggs to adults.  Some species have swimming larvae, some species have large eggs that develop directly into juveniles that look like small adults, in some species the embryos actually eat their siblings as they grow, and in other species the kind of development can change during the life of the mother.

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