Corals are the foundation for all life on the tropical coral reef. Corals build entire islands, give shelter to fishes, and provide food for many animals. One animal that couldn't survive without corals is the Flamingo Tongue Snail.
This close-up shows a Flamingo Tongue Snail eating a Sea Rod coral. The Flamingo Tongue Snail is a small, colorful snail about one inch long. Snails are called "gastropods" (say, "GAS-tro-PODS"), meaning stomach-footed, because they eat with their feet. As this snail crawls along the branch of coral, it digests the coral animals. To the left of the snail, you can see the bare purple coral skeleton where the snail has been.
The Sea Rod Coral is one of several species of corals that have soft skeletons. A Sea Rod is a colony of several thousand animals. Each animal is called a coral polyp (say "PAH-lip"). Each polyp lives in a small hole in the skeleton. The polyp has several small arms, like a tiny octopus or squid, and can reach out into the water to catch tiny plants and animals that it eats. When it is being attacked by the snail, the polyps will curl their arms and try to hide in their holes. You can see the Sea Rod's polyps in more detail elsewhere on the ReefNews website.
This snail's shell is white all over. The orange and black dots you see are actually on a layer of living tissue connected to the snail's foot that the snail pushes out to cover its shell. This tissue works like a fish's gills, exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide with the water so the snail can breathe.
This story first appeared in "Grand Turk: Jewel of the Caribbean," a web-browser slide show on CD-ROM.
You can order this CD-ROM from the ReefNews Online Catalog.
Tessa Dowell took this picture using a Nikonos V with 28mm lens, 1:2 extension tube, and SB105 strobe.