Comprehensive Description

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Comprehensive Description

The Flamingo Tongue Snail (Cyphoma gibbosum) is a common and easily recognized gastropod mollusk found in shallow waters of the tropical western Atlantic. It has a bright orange, white, and black pattern on the mantle folds that cover the shell in life. It feeds as an ectoparasite on a broad range of octocorals, with at least 21 alcyonacean octocoral host species known (Rosenberg 1989; Reijnen et al. 2010). However, some octocorals appear to be avoided entirely and Flamingo Tongue Snails are unevenly distributed among the corals on which they are found. Lasker et al. (1988) suggested that in addition to actual feeding preferences, a number of other factors (such as intraspecific social interactions and predator avoidance) likely influence the host associations of these snails. Nowlis (1993) found, for example, that both mate searching and oviposition behavior can influence host associations.

At least parts of a Flamingo Tongue Snail are distasteful to at least some predators and it seems likely that the striking coloration of these snails is aposematic (i.e., functions as a warning signal to potential predators) (Rosenberg 1989; Guilford and Cuthill 1991; Rosenberg 1991). However, some predators apparently do consume these snails. Burkepile and Hay (2007) found that when large predatory fishes and invertebrates were excluded from portions of a coral reef in the Florida Keys (U.S.A.), Flamingo Tongue Snail population densities increased 19-fold and grazing damage to gorgonian corals was far more frequent and extensive. Thus, predators of these snails appear to be indirectly protecting the corals, with the implication that overfishing of these predators could be very detrimental to gorgonian corals as well.

The Flamingo Tongue Snail lays its eggs singly in clear, domed capsules and the young emerge as free-swimming larvae (Rehder 1981).

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