Your friendly neighborhood snail-worm is here! (Does that sound familiar?)
A new species found in the seas off Florida shoots a web of slime (sounds like Spiderman!), thrives on shipwrecks, and could have major impacts on coral reefs.
PHOTOGRAPH BY RUDIGER BIELER, THE FIELD MUSEUM
The worm-snail Thylacodes vandyensis
known as "vandy" snails to its discoverers (named after the hull of the sunken USNS
General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, the only place on which this species has ever been found) are elongated and tubular, like a worm, compared to most snail shells that are coil in pattern.
“If you were a shell collector, a worm-snail shell is not something you would pick up or even recognize as a shell,” says study leader Rüdiger Bieler of Chicago’s Field Museum, who has been studying worm snails for 20 years.
They glue themselves on a rock or a hard surface and stay there until they die. “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,” said Dr. Bieler. This slime or mucus allows them to catch microorganisms on which they pull back to their mouths. They strain their foods through the barbs on their tongue.
While one might focus on their unattractiveness, experts say these can actually pose a serious problem. Worm snails and corals don't mix well- the slime that worm snails produces "a necrotic effect on coral, causing tissue death," as what Dr. Bieler told IFLScience
"Worm-snails can infect coral, reducing its growth and survival rate. Their slime web contains several bioactive compounds that deter fish from eating them. Worm-snails can also carry certain blood flukes that parasitize loggerhead sea turtles, which are vulnerable to extinction," Mary Bates explained in an article in NatGeo.
As of now, "vandy" hasn't spread to other shipwrecks or natural reefs yet, but the clock is ticking and it is very concerning. Seems like our friendly neighborhood worm-snail isn't heroic and friendly at all.