Atlantic snails are increasing dramatically in size

March 24, 2009
These snails are feeding on barnacles on the Maine shoreline. Credit: Jonathan A. D. Fisher

A Queen's University biologist has discovered that the shell lengths of snails in the northwest Atlantic Ocean - an important member of the Atlantic food chain - have increased by 22.6 per cent over the past century. Until now, this significant change in the marine ecosystem has gone unnoticed.

"We found a dramatic increase in size, which could affect the entire intertidal food chain," says Jonathan Fisher, Queen's Postdoctoral Fellow and the leader of the study. Growing larger shells is a major way for the to avoid predators, he explains. Previous and continuing research has also found that large snails tend to prey on mussels and barnacles and spend less time resting between feedings, compared to small snails.

The findings will appear online this week in the journal .

The team used museum collections from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia as a base for their data. They measured the shells from 19 lots of shells gathered between 1915 and 1922, and compared them with samples from the same 19 locations today. The increase in size was striking however, the researchers are unsure exactly why the snails are growing so large, so rapidly.

"Many documented environmental changes between these time periods could affect snail survival or growth rates," Dr. Fisher suggests. "We're finding fewer predatory fish now, which would allow the snails to grow." The temperature of the water today is warmer than 100 years ago, which could also account for faster growth of the snails, he adds.

"But regardless of the factors that contributed to the size increase, the marine landscape is changing dramatically on a historic timescale. That's what is really important here," says Dr. Fisher.

Source: Queen's University

Explore further: Giant snails a danger in Florida

Related Stories

Giant snails a danger in Florida

August 10, 2005

Florida officials reportedly are fearful giant South American channeled apple snails might threaten native species and endanger water quality.

Further Secrets of the Snail Love Dart

March 28, 2006

How do you make love to a snail? Slowly, violently and with a mucus-coated love dart. McGill University Biology Professor Ronald Chase knew that ‘love darts’ – sharp, slimy projectiles fired at prospective sexual partners ...

The beetle's dilemma

June 26, 2007

Large jaws are efficient in crushing hard prey, whereas small jaws are functional in capturing elusive prey. Researchers have suggested that such trade-offs between “force” and “velocity” could cause evolutionary ...

Glimmer of hope for Tahitian tree snails' survival

July 2, 2007

Despite the mass extermination of Tahiti’s unique species of tree snails in recent decades, much of their original genetic diversity can still be found in remnant populations that survive on the island, researchers report ...

Recommended for you

Genomes uncover life's early history

August 24, 2015

A University of Manchester scientist is part of a team which has carried out one of the biggest ever analyses of genomes on life of all forms.

Rare nautilus sighted for the first time in three decades

August 25, 2015

In early August, biologist Peter Ward returned from the South Pacific with news that he encountered an old friend, one he hadn't seen in over three decades. The University of Washington professor had seen what he considers ...

Study shows female frogs susceptible to 'decoy effect'

August 28, 2015

(Phys.org)—A pair of researchers has found that female túngaras, frogs that live in parts of Mexico and Central and South America, appear to be susceptible to the "decoy effect." In their paper published in the journal ...

Why a mutant rice called Big Grain1 yields such big grains

August 24, 2015

(Phys.org)—Rice is one of the most important staple crops grown by humans—very possibly the most important in history. With 4.3 billion inhabitants, Asia is home to 60 percent of the world's population, so it's unsurprising ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.