A Snail of a Tale

Hello again Foldscope friends!

If you are a regular on this blog, you already know that our Marine Ecology class at CSU-Monterey bay is stoked about getting to field test Foldscopes.  On our most recent field trip, we went to Point Pinos in Pacific Grove, CA.
The point is dominated by a golf links and neighborhoods, surrounding the oldest operating lighthouse on the west coast.  The entire point falls within the boundaries of marine protected areas, and the intertidal is full of life!
I found a giant green anemone (Anthopleura xanthogrammica) eating the remains of a fish (size 11 boot for scale)
… a baby octopus …
… and a tiny sea star.
We were there during a low tide, and at the waters edge seagrasses became dominant in some areas.  I’d never looked at seagrass under a microscope before, so I grabbed a small sample and took a look.  I tore a ~8mm section from small blade of grass and mounted it on a concave microscope slide.
I was amazed to see the tightly-packed cells in neat rows, and the fibers sticking out of the end that I likely would have missed had I cut the grass with a knife.  Neat!
The small bunch of grass also had some decaying bits, and knowing that many organisms would likely be munching on that sort of material, I made another slide.  The piece was ~2mm wide.
But what’s this?  A tiny snail!
I was able to zoom in with my iPhone 6s for this lovely shot:
I watched for a while, but it seemed to no longer be alive.  It appears to be roughly as long as two or three seagrass cells.  What caught my attention the most was the chambered appearance.  In the very center you can see the larval shell, which protects the snail before it starts to grow into a spiral.  I have no idea what kind of snail it is, but it sure is cool!

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Manu Prakash says:

    Dear @Spferrin:

    You have me jumping up and down from my chair. The “tiny” snail is an incredible find and something to be dug in detail.

    I looked; the smallest known snail reported so far is from Malaysia; it was only discovered in 2015 – it’s called Acmella Nana.

    Now, the funny thing is, the smallest known snail is still 0.7mm or 700 microns on average. From your image, I can already tell; what you show in your Foldscope images is between 100 or 200 microns; significantly smaller.

    To do:
    1) You should go to the same spot; collect a whole bunch of these blades and look systematically to see if you can find more to get an average size.
    2) Take an image (with the same amount of digital zoom) of the “dot” in the symbol Foldscope. embedded in the paper side tapes that come with foldscope. That “dot” is actually a scale bar – with 70 microns to it’s side. I can confirm this again.
    3) Or take another object of known scaling and take a picture to know what the snail size is – see relevant posts here:
    4) It might be useful – once you have collected enough of these “tiny” snails and have a rough average size; to write to the author of the discoverers of “Acmella Nana”. I am attaching the zookeys paper in which the “smallest known” snail species was described – authors include aap J. Vermeulen, Thor-Seng Liew, Menno Schilthuizen. If you need an introduction, let me know .

    ZooKeys 531: 1-139 (02 Nov 2015)
    doi: 10.3897/zookeys.531.6097

    This is quiet exciting.. really thrilled to read this and can’t wait to see how many more of these “little” guys you can find. This could also be an early growth phase of a snail that will eventually grow up to be bigger – in which case; it’s still interesting to see how this snail grows.


  2. Manu Prakash says:

    @SpFerrin @Laks – I just wanted to make sure you both saw my comment. Could you follow up to see if you saw the comment and the associated paper linked. This could “potentially” be the discovery of the world’s smallest snail – so I want to hear your opinion.


  3. laksiyer says:

    @SPFerrin. Great stuff. Love your posts, keep it going. @Manu and @SPFerrin, my resident expert (Aravind) quickly pointed out that this is a foraminiferan, an amoeboid protist and I agree. They have a great diversity of shapes, some of which resemble snail shells.. In a sense they also carry their shell on them, but they are a single cell. Microfossils of these are used by the petroleum industry to explore potential deposits. https://paleonerdish.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/an-introduction-to-foraminifera/

  4. spferrin says:

    My professor Kerry Nickols also suggested that maybe it isn’t a snail at all but a foram. A quick google search for foraminifera seems to settle the idea, particularly images like these:

    Thanks @Laksiyer for the additional information!

  5. laksiyer says:

    BTW that is the first Foraminiferan on microcosmos I think. It would be great if we could study a full life-cycle of these fascinating eukaryotes. Firstly, why a shell for a cell?

  6. Manu Prakash says:

    @Laks @spferrin – what a wonderful finding. Finding a single cell with a shell is even more exciting 🙂

    @spferrin: you should collect more to see if you can find some live one. I wonder when it moves; how it carries its shell.


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