• Austin Chen

Flamingo Tongue Snail: The Celebrity of the Reef



Introduction & Physical Appearance

So what are Flamingo Tongue Snails? These aquatic species are rare and colorful mollusks that live and survive in the shallow reefs of the Western Atlantic Ocean --- most commonly, the Caribbeans. Otherwise called the Cyphoma Gibbosum, these 2-3 centimeter Snails are invertebrates that form part of the phylum of mollusks (specifically, the gastropod group). Shown above, these small creatures, attracted to the tropical waters, have a bright and flashy outer surface: not from their shell, but soft tissue that wraps around their shell.


Adaptations

Unlike most of the other aquatic snails, these sea snails are small organisms that prey on the coral environment: Flamingo Tongues are predators that feed off of

  1. Tissue and debris that falls into their habitat

  2. Soft corals, only leaving the skeleton behind

Flaming Tongues' consumption of these soft corals, like many other sea slugs and aquatic organisms, incorporate chemicals from the coral to their own soft tissue, creating a chemical defense against predation. The sea snail uses its glaring-colored tissue as a warning of its toxic skin/tissue (a process known as aposematism).


These slugs use every advantage they have to survive the dangerous reefs!


Reproduction

The Flamingo Tongue reproduces through internal fertilization; after fertilization, the female then lays her sticky eggs on the soft corals where she lives. Females normally lay several egg masses during a cycle --- each egg having hundreds of embryos. After ten days, the eggs hatch, and the larvae disperse to live and feed off plankton. They would gradually grow into adults. The life cycle would then repeat.


Threats & Conservation

As of September 2020, the Flamingo Tongue Snail has an unknown conservation status. Even with this, there have been recent decreases in the population of these snails - this is due to three major threats:

  1. Predators: Pufferfish, California Red Lobster, and Other Fish. Many other aquatic organisms would feed off these snails, even with its unpleasant taste. (**Note: During 2009, there had been a slight decrease in predatory fish due to overfishing.)

  2. Striking Appearance: Leads to the human species' desire to capture these specimens to live in aquariums, preventing these snails to evolve in their natural habitat. Additionally, over-collection (by divers and fishermen) of these species has created a large threat to their population.

  3. Diet: Because of their constant-necessary consumption of soft coral, it creates a hardship in their diet since the process of seeking these producers is not quick nor simple.


My Opinion

I do have to say, these snails are one of the most beautiful aquatic organisms of the coral reefs. It is so awesome how they can consume such toxic coral tissue that can be transferred into their own defense mechanism against predators. This makes them alluring but very deadly. That is so extraordinary! Their brilliant outer tissue makes them a celebrity of the reef.

Even if these species are not endangered, the recent decreases/threats of these slugs have made me worried about their future existence. Like any other species, their existence will start to become a concern if we don't change our harmful practices right now. If you ever see a Flamingo Tongue, appreciate it's appearance since you may never see them ever again!



Sourced From/More Information:

Article: https://oceana.org/marine-life/cephalopods-crustaceans-other-shellfish/flamingo-tongue

Article: https://www.lamar.edu/arts-sciences/biology/marine-critters/marine-critters-1/flamingo-tongue.html

Image & Article: https://rare-animals.com/mollusks/flamingo-tongue-snail/


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