FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS: ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW


Cyphoma_gibbosum Clark Anderson - Aquaimages

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS: ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW

I wrote about FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS Cyphoma gibbous more than two years ago. They have not changed noticeably since then but this site has – in scope, available material and audience. So I am revisiting these small marine gastropod molluscs, which are related to cowries. The live animal is brightly coloured and strikingly patterned, but that colour only exists in the ‘live’ parts – the ‘mantle’. The shell itself is usually pale and characterised by  a thick ridge round the middle. These snails live in the tropical waters of the Caribbean and the wider western Atlantic. Whether alive or dead, they are gratifyingly easy to identify.

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAIL ON A PURPLE ROPE SPONGEFlamingo Tongue on purple rope sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

FEEDING ON A CORAL STEM

This snail is snacking on a coral stem, leaving a feeding track behind it. The structural shell ridge is clearly visible beneath the distinctively marked live tissue of these creatures.

Flamingo Tongue LASZLO ILYES Cyphoma_gibbosum_(living)_2

The flamingo tongue feeds by browsing on soft corals. Adult females attach eggs to coral which they have recently fed upon. About 10 days later, the larvae hatch. They eventually settle onto other gorgonian corals such as Sea Fans. Juveniles tend to live on the underside of coral branches, while adults are far more visible and mobile. Where the snail leaves a feeding scar, the corals can regrow the polyps, and therefore the snail’s feeding preference is generally not harmful to the coral.

Flamingo_Tongue_Snail_on_Soft_Coral_LASZLO ILYES

The principal purpose of the mantle of  tissue over the shell is as the creature’s breathing apparatus.  The tissue absorbs oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. As I have seen it described (unkindly?) “it’s basically their lungs, stretched out over their rather boring-looking shell”. 

Flamingo Tongue, Abaco (Char Albury)

This snail species, once common, is becoming rarer. The natural predators include Hogfish, Pufferfish and Spiny Lobsters, though the spotted mantle provides some defence by being rather unpalatable. Gorgonian corals contain natural toxins and instead of secreting these, the snail stores them. This supplements the defence provided by its APOSEMATIC COLORATION, the vivid colour and /or pattern warning sign to predators found in many species.

It comes as little surprise to learn that man is now considered to be the greatest menace to these little  creatures, and the reason for their significant decline in numbers. The threat comes from snorkelers and divers who mistakenly / ignorantly think that the colour of the mantle is the shell of the animal, collect up a whole bunch from the reef, and in due course are left with… “boring-looking shells” (see photos below). Don’t be a collector; be a protector…
Flamingo Tongue, Abaco (Char Albury)

These photos are of flamingo tongue shells from the Delphi Club Collection. Until I read the ‘boring-looking shell’ comment, I believed everyone thought they were rather lovely… I did, anyway. You decide!

Flamingo Tongue Snail Shell, Keith Salvesen AbacoFlamingo Tongue Snail Shell, Keith Salvesen AbacoFlamingo Tongue Snail Shell, Keith Salvesen Abaco

Finally, a couple of videos. The first is rather charmingly titled ‘FLAMINGO TONGUES DOING…. SOMETHING’. Any (printable but amusing) suggestions via the Comment box are welcome. The second punchily summarises this post in 30 seconds. Maybe that’s all that was needed!

Image Credits: Clark Anderson, Melinda Riger, Laszlo Ilyes, Charmaine Albury, RH

Doh! Reading through this after posting I can’t remove from my mind the likeness of Homer Simpson on the snail in Melissa’s photo (2). I had to  check it out and… it’s uncanny!

Homer Simpson Flamingo Tongue copy images

KING HELMET SHELLS (Cassis tuberosa) MORE DELPHI CLUB SHELLS


KING HELMET SHELLS (Cassis tuberosa) FROM THE DELPHI COLLECTION

It’s time to look at another shell from Delphi. The club has glass jars displaying small shells in the Great Room. Larger shells like the ones below are displayed on shelves. The King Helmet is the largest of the helmet shells of the family Cassidae. They are found in the Western Atlantic from North Carolina through the Caribbean and the gulf of Mexico down to Brazil. They tend to bury themselves during the day, becoming active and feeding at night. In humans this behaviour is found mainly in students and in those involved in the music business and similar louche occupations.

King Helmet Shell 1 King Helmet Shell 2

King Helmets prey mainly on sea urchins and other echinoderms, using their foot to grip their meal. The dining arrangements are somewhat protracted. The snail makes a hole in the urchin through the combined action of a glandular secretion which is rich in sulphuric acid, while using its RADULA to rasp and dig through the shell to get at the trapped occupant, which it gradually consumes… That’s enough about that.
King Helmet Shell 3
King Helmet Shell 4

STOCKY CERITH – A RANDOM ABACO SHELL FROM THE BACK OF A DRAWER


A RANDOM ABACO SHELL FROM THE BACK OF A DRAWER 

We recently discovered this shell loitering at the back of a drawer. It may well have been there for a couple of years… I had no idea what species of gastropod it might be, so I turned to a book I recently bought (and am about to review), the Peterson Field Guide on Shells. It is extremely thorough and well-illustrated, and almost at once I was able to pick the shell out as a STOCKY CERITH Cerithium Litteratum (Colin – are you still keeping an eye on the shell ID errors in this blog, I wonder? Later: yes… and he confirms the ID. Many thanks). It’s a couple of inches long and has 7 spirals before the tip part, with pronounced nobbles on the lowest 4. There’s a neat hole in it, but I don’t know whether caused by sea / beach damage or a predator. These creatures live in shallow water and are common throughout the Caribbean. So this one is nothing unusual, but I am pleased that it has eventually turned up…

STOCKY CERITH Cerithium Litteratum