Flamingo Tongue Snail

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Meet the FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAIL, the most common and perhaps, the most beautiful gastropod of the Caribbean waters.

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAIL – With a name like that, and the flamboyant coloration to match, you might think that this cyphoma gibbosum has a shell worthy of collecting.

Not so. All it’s color comes from the soft parts of its body, which envelope its shell unless it’s threatened. This brightly-colored snail is deceiving in a big way: its shell is actually just plain white! The brilliant colors you see are the coloring on pieces of the snail’s soft tissue that are sticking outside the shell. Only when the snail is attacked does it draw these pieces of colorful tissue back inside its shell.

The flamingo tongue snail, scientific name Cyphoma gibbosum, is a species of small but brightly colored sea snail, a marine gastropod mollusk.

The flamingo tongue snail lives in the tropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean from North Carolina to northern coast of Brazil, including the Bermuda, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Lesser Antilles.

When it is alive, the snail appears bright orange-yellow in color with black markings. However, these colors are not in the shell, but are only due to live mantle tissue, which usually cover the shell. The mantle flaps can be retracted, exposing the shell, but this usually happens only when the animal is attacked.

The shells reach on average 25–35 millimeters (0.98–1.38 in) of length, with a minimum size of 18 millimeters (0.71 in) and a maximum shell length of 44 millimeters (1.7 in). The shape is usually elongated and the dorsum shows a thick transversal ridge. The dorsum surface is smooth and shiny and may be white or orange, with no markings at all except a longitudinal white or cream band. The base and the interior of the shell is white or pinkish, with a wide aperture.

The minimum recorded depth is 0 m; the maximum recorded depth is 29 m.

The flamingo feeds by browsing on the living tissues of the soft corals on which it lives. The flamingo tongue snail feeds on toxic sea fans and not only suffers no harm, it incorporates the fans’ venom and becomes toxic itself. Adult femaleattach eggs to coral that they have recently fed upon. After roughly a week and a half, the larvae hatch. They are planktonic and eventually settle onto other gorgonian corals. Juveniles tend to remain on the underside of coral branches while adults are far more visible and mobile. Adults scrape the polyps off the coral with their radula, leaving an easily visible feeding scar on the coral. However, the corals can regrow the polyps, and therefore predation by this sea snail is generally not lethal.

This species used to be common, but it has become rather uncommon in heavily visited areas because of over-collecting by snorkelers and scuba divers, who make the mistake of thinking that the bright colors are in the shell of the animal.

MORE FACTS:

  • Adults are dioecious, which means the male and female of the species are distinct. However, they look identical. The young ones can be identified easily, as they are smaller and thinner as compared to adults.
  • The bright orange patterns that you see on the shell are due to the live mantle tissue covering it, and they disappear when the snail dies.
  • Exhibits bilateral symmetry. Visceral mass is asymmetrical as a result of torsion in the larval stage.
  • The animal inside is brightly colored, but the shell is pale white.
  • It has tentacles and a head with two pairs of sensory organs that look like horns. These ‘horns’ have eyes at their ends.

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August 24, 2018 |

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