|Lewis’ Moon Snail with its dark brown, hard operculum.|
Courtesy of Linda Schroeder- PNW Shell club.
When we talk about moon snails, we are referring to a group of species within the family Naticidae.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, we see a few different species. Lewis’ Moon Snail is the largest of the moon snails -- it can grow to 14 cm! Although it is the most common species overall, we don't often encounter Lewis' Moon Snail during our subtidal Puget Sound sediment monitoring because it lives in intertidal habitat.
The Pale Moon Snail and Arctic Moon Snail are more commonly encountered during our sediment monitoring, and can be found in soft muddy bottoms from 0-500 meters (although Puget Sound depths reach only about 300 meters).
Cute as a (belly) buttonWhile the different moon snail species look and act similarly, there is one thing that sets them apart –their “belly buttons”. This special belly button is called an umbilicus, and it is formed because of the way a snail shell grows around a central axis (columella). This growth results in a hollow tube running through the center of the shell, forming the belly button-like hole. In some species of moon snails, the hole is filled in with calcium as the animal grows, but in others, the umbilicus is never filled in – so this trait of having an “outy” or an “inny” can set them apart.
Get your foot in the door
|Lewis’ Moon Snail with its inflated fleshy foot|
engulfing almost the entire outer shell.
Courtesy of Kevin Lee, www.diverkevin.com
Believe it or not, moon snails can live to be up to 15 years old, and they don’t survive that long on luck alone. When a moon snail senses danger or is disturbed, it withdraws its inflated foot inside its shell, sealing the opening (aperture) of the shell with a hardened door (called an operculum) so that the soft fleshy foot is fully protected. Meaning “little lid” in Latin, the operculum is present in almost all snails. Animals that would love to munch on a moon snail include octopuses, rock crabs, sea gulls, and even other moon snails.
|An upside-down Lewis’ Moon Snail with a clam in its|
huge foot. Courtesy of Linda Schroeder - PNW Shell club
The dark side of the moon (snail)While the unassuming moon snail appears super cute and squishy, it is actually a voracious predator, using stealthy tactics to consume its favorite food: clams. It all begins when the moon snail smells its prey and uses its huge slimy foot to engulf its victim. Once the moon snail gets the unsuspecting clam in its grip, the radula goes to work. Almost all snails have a toothed structure called a radula which they use to consume smaller animal pieces or to scrape algae off rocks.
However, in the moon snail’s case, the sharp-toothed radula is used as a drill to bore holes into the hard shells of clams.
|This hole drilled on the top of a clam’s shell is the sign of a |
moon snail attack. Courtesy of Central Coast Biodiversity
Once a perfectly rounded hole is made in the shell, the moon snail inserts its tubular, straw-like mouth and slurps up the “clam smoothie” inside. It can take another day or so for the moon snail to ingest the clam innards. Talk about delayed gratification!
Hot under the collar
|An egg-filled sand collar left on the beach by a moon snail.|
Courtesy of Linda Schroeder - PNW Shell club
A few weeks go by and the eggs hatch, breaking through the disintegrating collar and swimming away to repeat the process all over again.
By: Dany Burgess & Angela Eagleston, Environmental Assessment Program
Critter of the Month
|Our benthic taxonomists love getting to know the crazy|
critters at the bottom of Puget Sound.
Dany and Angela share their discoveries by bringing us a Benthic Critter of the Month. These posts will give you a peek into the life of Puget Sound’s least-known inhabitants. We’ll share details on identification, habitat, life history, and the role each critter plays in the sediment community. Can't get enough benthos? See photos from our Eyes Under Puget Sound collection on Flickr.