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Concept: Gastropod shell


While components of the pathway that establishes left-right asymmetry have been identified in diverse animals, from vertebrates to flies, it is striking that the genes involved in the first symmetry-breaking step remain wholly unknown in the most obviously chiral animals, the gastropod snails. Previously, research on snails was used to show that left-right signaling of Nodal, downstream of symmetry breaking, may be an ancestral feature of the Bilateria [1, 2]. Here, we report that a disabling mutation in one copy of a tandemly duplicated, diaphanous-related formin is perfectly associated with symmetry breaking in the pond snail. This is supported by the observation that an anti-formin drug treatment converts dextral snail embryos to a sinistral phenocopy, and in frogs, drug inhibition or overexpression by microinjection of formin has a chirality-randomizing effect in early (pre-cilia) embryos. Contrary to expectations based on existing models [3-5], we discovered asymmetric gene expression in 2- and 4-cell snail embryos, preceding morphological asymmetry. As the formin-actin filament has been shown to be part of an asymmetry-breaking switch in vitro [6, 7], together these results are consistent with the view that animals with diverse body plans may derive their asymmetries from the same intracellular chiral elements [8].

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Animal, Symmetry, Mollusca, Gastropod shell, Snail


BACKGROUND: Various shapes of gastropod shells have evolved ever since the Cambrian. Although theoretical analyses of morphogenesis exist, the molecular basis of shell development remains unclear. We compared expression patterns of the decapentaplegic (dpp) gene in the shell gland and mantle tissues at various developmental stages between coiled-shell and non-coiled-shell gastropods. RESULTS: We analyzed the expression patterns of dpp for the two limpets Patella vulgata and Nipponacmea fuscoviridis, and for the dextral wild-type and sinistral mutant lineage of the pond snail Lymnaea stagnalis. The limpets had symmetric expression patterns of dpp throughout ontogeny, whereas in the pond snail, the results indicated asymmetric and mirror image patterns between the dextral and sinistral lineages. CONCLUSION: We hypothesize that Dpp induces mantle expansion, and the presence of a left/right asymmetric gradient of the Dpp protein causes the formation of a coiled shell. Our results provide a molecular explanation for shell, coiling including new insights into expression patterns in post-embryonic development, which should aid in understanding how various shell shapes are formed and have evolved in the gastropods.

Concepts: Gene, Developmental biology, Mollusca, Gastropod shell, Snail, Gastropoda, Lymnaea stagnalis, Limpet


Dispersal has received growing attention in marine ecology, particularly since evidence obtained with up-to-date techniques challenged the traditional view. The dogwhelk Nucella lapillus L., a sedentary gastropod with direct development, is a good example: dispersal was traditionally assumed to be limited until studies with microsatellites disputed this idea. To shed some light on this controversy, the genetic structure of dogwhelk populations in northwest Spain was investigated with highly polymorphic AFLP markers giving special attention to the influence of hydrodynamic stress. In agreement with the expectations for a poor disperser, our results show a significant genetic structure at regional (<200 km) and areal scales (<15 km). However, the spatial genetic structure varied with wave-exposure in the present case study: IBD was evident under sheltered conditions but absent from the exposed area where genetic differentiation was stronger. Our results provide evidence that differences in wave-exposure can exert a detectable influence on the genetic structure of coastal organisms, even in species without a planktonic larva.

Concepts: DNA, Biology, Population, Mollusca, Dog whelk, Amplified fragment length polymorphism, Nucella, Gastropod shell


Autotomy of body parts offers various prey animals immediate benefits of survival in compensation for considerable costs. I found that a land snail Satsuma caliginosa of populations coexisting with a snail-eating snake Pareas iwasakii survived the snake predation by autotomizing its foot, whereas those out of the snake range rarely survived. Regeneration of a lost foot completed in a few weeks but imposed a delay of shell growth. Imprints of autotomy were found in greater than 10 per cent of S. caliginosa in the snake range but in only less than 1 per cent out of it, simultaneously demonstrating intense predation by the snakes and high efficiency of autotomy for surviving snake predation in the wild. However, in experiments, mature S. caliginosa performed autotomy less frequently. Instead of the costly autotomy, they can use defensive denticles on the inside of their shell apertures. Owing to the constraints from the additive growth of shells, most pulmonate snails can produce these denticles only when they have fully grown up. Thus, this developmental constraint limits the availability of the modified aperture, resulting in ontogenetic switching of the alternative defences. This study illustrates how costs of adaptation operate in the evolution of life-history strategies under developmental constraints.

Concepts: Lung, Predation, Mollusca, Gastropod shell, Snail, Snake, Pulmonata, Freshwater snail


Snails are highly unusual among multicellular animals in that they move on a layer of costly mucus, leaving behind a trail that can be followed and utilized for various purposes by themselves or by other animals. Here we review more than 40 years of experimental and theoretical research to try to understand the ecological and evolutionary rationales for trail-following in gastropods. Data from over 30 genera are currently available, representing a broad taxonomic range living in both aquatic and terrestrial environments. The emerging picture is that the production of mucus trails, which initially was an adaptation to facilitate locomotion and/or habitat extension, has evolved to facilitate a multitude of additional functions. Trail-following supports homing behaviours, and provides simple mechanisms for self-organisation in groups of snails, promoting aggregation and thus relieving desiccation and predation pressures. In gastropods that copulate, trail-following is an important component in mate-searching, either as an alternative, or in addition to the release of water- or air-borne pheromones. In some species, this includes a capacity of males not only to identify trails of conspecifics but also to discriminate between trails laid by females and males. Notably, trail discrimination seems important as a pre-zygotic barrier to mating in some snail species. As production of a mucus trail is the most costly component of snail locomotion, it is also tempting to speculate that evolution has given rise to various ways to compensate for energy losses. Some snails, for example, increase energy intake by eating particles attached to the mucus of trails that they follow, whereas others save energy through reducing the production of their own mucus by moving over previously laid mucus trails. Trail-following to locate a prey item or a mate is also a way to save energy. While the rationale for trail-following in many cases appears clear, the basic mechanisms of trail discrimination, including the mechanisms by which many snails determine the polarity of the trail, are yet to be experimentally determined. Given the multiple functions of trail-following we propose that future studies should adopt an integrated approach, taking into account the possibility of the simultaneous occurrence of many selectively advantageous roles of trail-following behaviour in gastropods. We also believe that future opportunities to link phenotypic and genotypic traits will make possible a new generation of research projects in which gastropod trail-following, its multitude of functions and evolutionary trade-offs can be further elucidated.

Concepts: Evolution, Phenotype, Sex, Mollusca, Gastropod shell, Snail, Gastropoda, Gastropods


The gills, or ctenidia, of marine gastropods serve as the sites for respiratory gas exchange. Cilia on the surface provide the pump that moves water through the mantle cavity and enhance diffusion. Because the gills are housed inside the shell, it is difficult to view them while they are functioning. Published images of gills show contracted, fragile structures that are distorted by the processes of dissection and preservation. Members of the families Fissurellidae (keyhole limpets) and Haliotidae (abalone) have openings in their shells through which water enters and/or exits. I inserted an endoscope connected to a video camera into the openings of the shells of living, non-anaesthetized individuals of the fissurellid Diodora aspera and the haliotid Haliotis rufescens. In both species, the dorsal afferent branchial vessel of the afferent gill axis appeared large and inflated, as did the leaflets that extended from either side of the axis. In D. aspera, the leaflets appeared to fill the mantle cavity and responded to touch, particles, and dye in the water by contracting quickly and slowly re-extending. In contrast, the gills of H. rufescens did not noticeably respond to disturbance. On the other hand, these gills showed a regular pattern of pleats that had not been described in the extensive anatomical literature of these common and economically significant animals. These results provide a novel view of the gastropod mantle cavity as a dynamic space filled by the gills, which divide the mantle cavity into distinct incurrent and excurrent chambers and produce a laminar flow of water through the cavity. J. Morphol., 2015. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: Mollusca, Gastropod shell, Abalone, Gastropoda, Intertidal zone, Limpet, Fissurellidae, Red abalone


The iconic gastropod genus Cyphoma is commonly observed in the Caribbean, where it lives in association with various octocorallian hosts. Each species in the genus Cyphoma has a unique, characteristic mantle pattern and colouration, which separates the valid taxa. Because of its abundance and recognisability Cyphoma gibbosum has been used as a model organism in several studies concerning allelochemicals, reef degradation, and physical defence mechanisms. Molecular analyses based on four molecular markers (COI, 16S, H3 and 28S) for three Cyphoma species (C. gibbosum, C. mcgintyi, C. signatum) and an unidentified black morph, collected from three localities in the Caribbean, show that they represent morphological varieties of a single, genetically homogeneous species. This outcome is in agreement with previous anatomical studies. As a result C. mcgintyi and C. signatum are synonymised with C. gibbosum, which is a key result for future work using C. gibbosum as a model organism. The striking morphological differences in mantle pattern and colouration are hypothesised to be the result of one of three possible scenarios: rapid divergence, supergenes (including balanced polymorphism), or incipient speciation.

Concepts: DNA, Evolution, Biology, Organism, Species, Gastropod shell, Ovulidae, Cyphoma


Bivalve, ammonite and snail shells are described by a small number of geometrical parameters. Raup noted that the vast majority of theoretically possible shell forms do not occur in nature. The constraint factors that regulate the biased distribution of natural form have long since been an open problem in evolution. The problem of whether natural shell form is a result of optimization remains unsolved despite previous attempts. Here we solve this problem by considering the scaling exponent of shell thickness as a morphological parameter. The scaling exponent has a drastic effect on the optimal design of shell shapes. The observed characteristic shapes of natural shells are explained in a unified manner as a result of optimal utilization of shell material resources, while isometric growth in thickness leads to impossibly tight coiling.

Concepts: Scientific method, Mathematics, Mollusca, Gastropod shell, Snail, Bivalvia, Open problem, Radula


All stingrays in the family Myliobatidae are durophagous, consuming bivalves and gastropods, as well as decapod crustaceans. Durophagous rays have rigid jaws, flat teeth that interlock to form pavement-like tooth plates, and large muscles which generate bite forces capable of fracturing stiff biological composites (e.g., mollusk shell). The relative proportion of different prey types in the diet of durophagous rays varies between genera with some stingray species specializing on particular mollusk taxa, while others are generalists. The tooth plate module provides a curved occlusal surface on which prey is crushed, and this curvature differs significantly among myliobatids. We measured the effect of jaw curvature on prey-crushing success in durophagous stingrays. We milled aluminum replica jaws rendered from computed tomography scans, and crushed live mollusks, 3D printed gastropod shells, and ceramic tubes with these fabricated jaws. Our analysis of prey items indicate that gastropods were consistently more difficult to crush than bivalves (i.e. were stiffer), but that mussels require the greatest work-to-fracture. We found that replica shells can provide an important proxy for investigations of failure mechanics. We also found little difference in crushing performance between jaw shapes, suggesting that disparate jaws are equally suited for processing different types of shelled prey. Thus, durophagous stingrays exhibit a many-to-one mapping of jaw morphology to mollusk crushing performance.

Concepts: Species, Mollusca, Gastropod shell, Bivalvia, Mussel, Gastropoda, Clam, Limpet


Squid are the largest jet propellers in nature as adults, but as paralarvae they are some of the smallest, faced with the inherent inefficiency of jet propulsion at low Reynolds number. In this study we describe the behavior and kinematics of locomotion in 1 mm paralarvae of Dosidicus gigas, the smallest squid yet studied. They swim with hop-and-sink behavior and can engage in fast jets by reducing the size of the mantle aperture during the contraction phase of a jetting cycle. We go on to explore the general effects of a variable mantle and funnel aperture in a theoretical model of jet propulsion scaled from the smallest (1 mm mantle length) to the largest (3 m) squid. Aperture reduction during mantle contraction increases propulsive efficiency at all squid sizes, although 1 mm squid still suffer from low efficiency (20%) due to a limited speed of contraction. Efficiency increases to a peak of 40% for 1 cm squid, then slowly declines. Squid larger than 6 cm must either reduce contraction speed or increase aperture size to maintain stress within maximal muscle tolerance. Ecological pressure to maintain maximum velocity may lead them to increase aperture size, which reduces efficiency. This effect may be ameliorated by nonaxial flow during the refill phase of the cycle. Our model’s predictions highlight areas for future empirical work, and emphasize the existence of complex behavioral options for maximizing efficiency at both very small and large sizes.

Concepts: Orders of magnitude, Velocity, Gastropod shell, Reynolds number, Jet engine, Giant squid, Turbofan, Propulsive efficiency