Oct 11, 2023 - News

Critter Corner: New "margarita snail" discovered in Key West

A yellow creature peeks out of a shell

Nice to meet you. Photo: Courtesy of Rüdiger Bieler

A newly discovered snail in the Florida Keys is being named after a Jimmy Buffett song.

What's happening: Scientists noticed four never-described-before species of snail and placed them in a new genus called cayo — Spanish for "key" — according to a study published in the journal PeerJ.

  • One of the species was discovered in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (the other three were discovered in Belize).
  • The small yellow snail — Cayo margaritawas named in honor of "Margaritaville."

Why it matters: The study highlights biodiversity in the Florida Keys, home to the only living coral barrier reef in the continental U.S.

What they're saying: The snails are "worm snails," which have irregular shells.

  • "I find them particularly cool because they are related to regular free-living snails, but when the juveniles find a suitable spot to live, they hunker down, cement their shell to the substrate, and never move again," Rüdiger Bieler, the study's lead author, said in a statement.
  • The shell grows like a tube around the snail's body, and it then hunts by laying out mucus to trap plankton.

Of note: Cayo margarita was found in a shallow, heavily touristed area of the Keys — but it was likely not noticed sooner because it's smaller than most worm snails, which are usually the size of a human finger, CNN reports.

  • Their bright colors may scare off predators.

What we're watching: The Cayo snails live on dead coral. As more coral is killed off due to climate change and warming oceans, the snails could proliferate.


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