The shell of hydrothermal vent snails serves as tough armor thanks to a three-layered structure incorporating iron sulphide granules.
"During the second ever expedition to hydrothermal vents in the Indian Ocean, biologists spotted a snail with a strange-looking foot. Many snails can close the opening to their shell with a flat, round bit of shell called an operculum. But this snail instead protects itself with scales, a feature seen before only in long extinct species, although the vent snail itself evolved recently. Even more unusually, the scales are reinforced with the iron sulphide minerals fool's gold and greigite, giving them a golden colour. No other multicellular animal is known to use these materials." (Schrope 2005:38)
"…[T]he snail has evolved a tri-layered shell structure consisting of an outer layer embedded with iron sulfide granules, a thick organic middle layer, and a calcified inner layer. This creates a configuration in which the inner compliant layer is sandwiched between two rigid layers.
"Ortiz and her colleagues, including MIT Dean of Engineering Subra Suresh, used nanoscale experiments and computer modeling to determine the shell's structure and mechanical properties. They found that the unique three-layer structure dissipates mechanical energy, which helps the snails fend off attacks from crabs that squeeze the shell with their claws in an attempt to fracture it. The shell of the scaly-foot snail possesses a number of additional energy dissipation mechanisms compared to typical mollusk shells that are primarily composed of calcium carbonate." (Trafton 2010)
Learn more about this functional adaptation.
- Schrope, Mark. 2005. Deep sea special: The undiscovered oceans. New Scientist. 188(2525): 36-43.
- Trafton A. 2010. Iron-plated snail could inspire new armor. MIT News [Internet],
- Yao H; Dao M; Imholt T; Huang J; Wheeler K; Bonilla A; Suresh S; Ortiz C. 2010. Protection mechanisms of the iron-plated armor of a deep-sea hydrothermal vent gastropod. PNAS. 107(3): 987-992.
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