Sea snail

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A species of sea snail in its natural habitat: two individuals of the wentletrap Epidendrium billeeanum with a mass of egg capsules in situ on their food source, a red cup coral. Epitonium billeeanum (Wentletrap).jpg
A species of sea snail in its natural habitat: two individuals of the wentletrap Epidendrium billeeanum with a mass of egg capsules in situ on their food source, a red cup coral.

Sea snail is a common name for slow-moving marine gastropod molluscs, usually with visible external shells, such as whelk or abalone. They share the taxonomic class Gastropoda with slugs, which are distinguished from snails primarily by the absence of a visible shell.



Determining whether some gastropods should be called sea snails is not always easy. Some species that live in brackish water (such as certain neritids) can be listed as either freshwater snails or marine snails, and some species that live at or just above the high tide level (for example, species in the genus Truncatella ) are sometimes considered to be sea snails and sometimes listed as land snails.


Sea snails are a very large and diverse group of animals. Most snails that live in salt water respire using a gill or gills; a few species, though, have a lung, are intertidal, and are active only at low tide when they can move around in the air. These air-breathing species include false limpets in the family Siphonariidae and another group of false limpets in the family Trimusculidae.

Many, but not all, sea snails have an operculum.


The shells of most species of sea snails are spirally coiled. Some, though, have conical shells, and these are often referred to by the common name of limpets. In one unusual family (Juliidae), the shell of the snail has become two hinged plates closely resembling those of a bivalve; this family is sometimes called the "bivalved gastropods".

Their shells are found in a variety of shapes and sizes, but are normally very small. Those living species of sea snails range in size from Syrinx aruanus , the largest living shelled gastropod species at 91 cm (36 in), to minute species whose shells are less than 1 mm at adult size. Because the shells of sea snails are strong and durable in many cases, as a group they are well represented in the fossil record.

The shells of snails are complex and grow at different speeds. The speed of growth is affected by a few variables such as the temperature of the water, depth of the water, food present for the snail, as well as isotopic oxygen levels. By looking at the composition of aragonite in the growth layers of mollusks you can predict the size the mollusk shell can reach. [1]


The shell of Syrinx aruanus can be up to 91 cm long. Syrinx aruanus shell.jpg
The shell of Syrinx aruanus can be up to 91 cm long.
A 50-second video of snails (most likely Natica chemnitzi and Cerithium stercusmuscaram) feeding on the sea floor in the Gulf of California, Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.
A hermit crab occupying a shell of Acanthina punctulata has been disturbed, and has retracted into the shell, using its claws to bar the entrance in the same way the snail used its operculum. Acanthina punctulata.jpg
A hermit crab occupying a shell of Acanthina punctulata has been disturbed, and has retracted into the shell, using its claws to bar the entrance in the same way the snail used its operculum.

2005 taxonomy

The following cladogram is an overview of the main clades of living gastropods based on the taxonomy of Bouchet & Rocroi (2005), [2] with taxa that contain saltwater or brackish water species marked in boldface (some of the highlighted taxa consist entirely of marine species, but some of them also contain freshwater or land species.)


By humans

A number of species of sea snails are harvested in aquaculture and used by humans for food, including abalone, conch, limpets, whelks (such as the North American Busycon species and the North Atlantic Buccinum undatum ) and periwinkles including Littorina littorea .

The shells of sea snails are often found washed up on beaches. Because many are attractive and durable, they have been used to make necklaces and other jewelry since prehistoric times.

The shells of a few species of large sea snails within the Vetigastropoda have a thick layer of nacre and have been used as a source of mother of pearl. Historically, the button industry relied on these species for a number of years.

By non-human animals

The shells of sea snails are used for protection by many kinds of hermit crabs. A hermit crab carries the shell by grasping the central columella of the shell using claspers on the tip of its abdomen.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gastropoda</span> Class of molluscs

The gastropods, commonly known as slugs and snails, belong to a large taxonomic class of invertebrates within the phylum Mollusca called Gastropoda.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Opisthobranchia</span> Informal group of gastropods

Opisthobranchs is a now informal name for a large and diverse group of specialized complex gastropods which used to be united in the subclass Opisthobranchia. That taxon is no longer considered to represent a monophyletic grouping.

Orthogastropoda was a major taxonomic grouping of snails and slugs, an extremely large subclass within the huge class Gastropoda according to the older taxonomy of the Gastropoda.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Heterobranchia</span> Clade of gastropods

Heterobranchia, the heterobranchs, is a taxonomic clade of snails and slugs, which includes marine, aquatic and terrestrial gastropod mollusks.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Acteonoidea</span> Superfamily of gastropods

Acteonoidea is a superfamily of sea snails, or bubble snails, marine gastropod mollusks.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Limpet</span> Group of snails

Limpets are a group of aquatic snails that exhibit a conical shell shape (patelliform) and a strong, muscular foot. Limpets are members of the class Gastropoda, but are polyphyletic, meaning the various groups called "limpets" descended independently from different ancestral gastropods. This general category of conical shell is known as "patelliform" (dish-shaped). All members of the large and ancient marine clade Patellogastropoda are limpets. Within that clade, the members of the Patellidae family in particular are often referred to as "true limpets".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Basommatophora</span> Informal group of gastropods

Basommatophora was a term that was previously used as a taxonomic informal group, a group of snails within the informal group Pulmonata, the air-breathing slugs and snails. According to the taxonomy of the Gastropoda, whenever monophyly has not been tested, or where a traditional taxon of gastropods has now been discovered to be paraphyletic or polyphyletic, the term "group" or "informal group" was used.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Siphonal canal</span> Anatomical structure of certain sea snails

The siphonal canal is an anatomical feature of the shells of certain groups of sea snails within the clade Neogastropoda. Some sea marine gastropods have a soft tubular anterior extension of the mantle called a siphon through which water is drawn into the mantle cavity and over the gill and which serves as a chemoreceptor to locate food. Siphonal canals allow for active transport of water to sensory organs inside the shell. Organisms without siphonal canals in their shells rely on passive or diffuse transport or water into their shell. Those with siphonal canals have a direct inhalant stream of water that interacts with sensory organs to detect concentration and direction of a stimulus, such as food or mates. In certain groups of carnivorous snails, where the siphon is particularly long, the structure of the shell has been modified in order to house and protect the soft structure of the siphon. Thus the siphonal canal is a semi-tubular extension of the aperture of the shell through which the siphon is extended when the animal is active.

The taxonomy of the Gastropoda as it was revised in 2005 by Philippe Bouchet and Jean-Pierre Rocroi is a system for the scientific classification of gastropod mollusks. The paper setting out this taxonomy was published in the journal Malacologia. The system encompasses both living and extinct groups, as well as some fossils whose classification as gastropods is uncertain.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pyramidelloidea</span> Superfamily of gastropods

Pyramidelloidea is a superfamily of mostly very small sea snails, marine gastropod mollusks and micromollusks within the clade Panpulmonata.

The taxonomy of the Gastropoda, as revised by Winston Ponder and David R. Lindberg in 1997, is an older taxonomy of the class Gastropoda, the class of molluscs consisting of all snails and slugs. The full name of the work in which this taxonomy was published is Towards a phylogeny of gastropod molluscs: an analysis using morphological characters.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vetigastropoda</span> Clade of sea snails

Vetigastropoda is a major taxonomic group of sea snails, marine gastropod mollusks that form a very ancient lineage. Taxonomically the Vetigastropoda are sometimes treated as an order, although they are treated as an unranked clade in Bouchet and Rocroi, 2005.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lower Heterobranchia</span> Group of molluscs

Lower Heterobranchia, also known as the Allogastropoda, is a group of rather specialized, highly evolved sea slugs and sea snails, within the subclass Heterobranchia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Neritimorpha</span> Subclass of gastropods

Neritimorpha is a taxonomic grouping, an unranked major clade of snails, gastropod mollusks. This grouping includes land snails, sea snails, slugs, some deepwater limpets, and also freshwater snails. Neritimorpha contains around 2,000 extant species. Some Neritimorphs are commonly kept as pets. This clade used to be known as the superorder Neritopsina.

The respiratory system of gastropods varies greatly in form. These variations were once used as a basis for dividing the group into subclasses. The majority of marine gastropods breathe through a single gill, supplied with oxygen by a current of water through the mantle cavity. This current is U-shaped, so that it also flushes waste products away from the anus, which is located above the animal's head, and would otherwise cause a problem with fouling.

Strubellia paradoxa is a species of freshwater slug, a shell-less freshwater gastropod, an aquatic gastropod mollusk within the clade Acochlidiacea.

<i>Cittarium pica</i> Species of gastropod

Cittarium pica, common name the West Indian top shell or magpie shell, is a species of large edible sea snail, a marine gastropod mollusk in the family Tegulidae. This species has a large black and white shell.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hygrophila (gastropod)</span> Clade of molluscs

Hygrophila is a taxonomic superorder of air-breathing freshwater snails, aquatic pulmonate gastropod mollusks within the clade Panpulmonata.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Freshwater snail</span> Non-marine snail

Freshwater snails are gastropod mollusks that live in fresh water. There are many different families. They are found throughout the world in various habitats, ranging from ephemeral pools to the largest lakes, and from small seeps and springs to major rivers. The great majority of freshwater gastropods have a shell, with very few exceptions. Some groups of snails that live in freshwater respire using gills, whereas other groups need to reach the surface to breathe air. In addition, some are amphibious and have both gills and a lung. Most feed on algae, but many are detritivores and some are filter feeders.


  1. Roy, Rupsa; Wang, Yang; Jiang, Shijun (2019). "Growth pattern and oxygen isotopic systematics of modern freshwater mollusks along an elevation transect: Implications for paleoclimate reconstruction". Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 532: 109243. Bibcode:2019PPP...532j9243R. doi:10.1016/j.palaeo.2019.109243. S2CID   198421960.
  2. Bouchet, Philippe; Rocroi, Jean-Pierre; Frýda, Jiri; Hausdorf, Bernard; Ponder, Winston; Valdés, Ángel & Warén, Anders (2005). "Classification and nomenclator of gastropod families". Malacologia . Hackenheim, Germany: ConchBooks. 47 (1–2): 1–397. ISBN   3-925919-72-4. ISSN   0076-2997.