We have long been fascinated by these incredibly adaptive mollusks, which have inhabited our planet for nearly 500 million years. We thought there was not much that could surprise us about these invertebrates, but now it has been revealed that a super-powered snail can fly underwater.
This species is also called a sea butterfly or Limacina helicina and it can only be encountered in the Arctic waters. They usually survive by eating phytoplankton and tiny zooplankton.
These small sea butterflies have a unique set of wings, which enable them to fly underwater, in the same manner that insects fly in the air.
These findings come from a group of researchers who designed a system in order to examine the snail’s motions. The team of scientists was fascinated to discover that their wings actually created a figure-eight model while moving in the water.
According to experts, this is very similar to the pattern used by airborne insects. Seeing how these sea butterflies are quite rare, the research was very difficult to complete.
The snails had to be transported to the researchers’ lab in Atlanta in order to properly examine them. Since these creatures are used to low temperature environments, they were shipped in an insulated cooler and only in the nighttime.
Furthermore, the water needed to be extremely clean in order to avoid any dirty particles sticking to them. Once they were brought inside the lab, the sea snails were placed in a water tank, with a V-shaped tube at the base.
The researchers used four high speed cameras, which enabled them to record their movements inside the container. All of this had to be done before water conditions deteriorated, which meant the team only had a few hours at their disposal to accomplish their task.
David Murphy is a postdoctoral researcher at John Hopkins University and he claims that getting these creatures to actually swim in front of the camera is extremely rare, but the team was lucky enough to collect some valuable data on them, which will most likely be used for further studies.
The majority of snails have a fleshy foot, which they use for crawling, but these sea mollusks present wing-like protrusions, which enable them to fly. With the exception of a shell made of calcium carbonate, these animals are completely gelatinous.
The sea butterfly study is the first of its kind and it can be found in the February edition of the Journal of Experimental Biology.
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