SNAILS: Flipping out, cooling off, heating up, and looking for answers.

Scientists are always trying to answers the big questions; but sometimes to get those big answers we need to start small. Like under-some-dirt-in-your-garden-never-even-noticed-them small.

So I dug out some of our under-appreciated and under-studied critters to start asking the big questions. My research took a closer look at two invasive snail species found in Southwestern British Columbia: the Glass Snail (Oxychilus sp.) and the Grove Snail (Cepaea nemoralis).

To better understand where these snails are likely to live and how they might cope with a changing environment I observed their response to temperature change.

The snails were split into two groups. One set was kept at a chilly 3ºC for 48 hours, the others were kept cozy at 19ºC. When the treatment was over it was time to flip some snails…

Snails are highly motivated to not be stuck on their backs. So one by one I performed a “righting time” test: snails were flipped upside down onto their shells. From that point I timed just how long it took this snail to flip completely back over. This “righting time” is a good approximation of how agile and active that snail is!

Watch below to see righting time analysis for one little Grove snail:

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So I flipped and flipped and flipped… and finally the times were all in!

After comparing all righting times I found that both snail species slowed down in response to being left out in the cold!

Interestingly I also found a difference between my two groups: the Grove Snails were a whole lot faster than the Glass snails!

So who was the fastest?  Your friendly neighbourhood Grove snail (Cepaea nemoralis) when kept at a nice 19ºC.

Snails hibernate in cold weather, their body functions slow down as they settle down for their winter snooze. So it makes sense that the cold treatment made both snail species a little less active than their usual speedy-selves.

Explaining the difference in flipping time between species is more complicated… maybe the flat shell of the glass snail is harder to flip with its little body, or maybe grove snails are a little tougher when it comes to spending 48 hours in the fridge!

The primary goal of this research was to provide some understanding of how these species respond to different temperatures, as a baseline for further studies into how they might spread in an environment as invasive species, or as a result of climate change…But it became much more than that! It became an observation of how little we know about these diverse critters.

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Note the translucent shell on Oxychilus sp. (hence the name Glass snail). If you look closely you can watch their lungs pump!

The physical and behavioural differences between just these two species was astounding! They are fascinating, friendly, and wildly understudied. You can identify the snails you see in your garden here, and start making observations! Go forth and discover the drama and intrigue of the daily life of a good ol’ garden dwelling gastropod. 🐌 

Off to see the Wizard: a tale of dredging the deep

Along the west coast of Vancouver Island in the Pacific Northwest lies Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre. Home to a wonderful array of scientists hell-bent on solving the mysteries of our oceans. This is where our journey began…

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Map showing the location of our treasure hunt 

We left the dock at the marine centre aboard Bamfield’s research vessel the “Alta” with an important destination: Wizard islet. Aboard our boat was a rag tag group of rain gear clad biology students looking to investigate the world below the ocean’s surface.

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The Alta: our vessel to adventure

We were on a mission: to see just how much diversity we could pull up from the ocean floor.

Once we reached our destination alongside the tiny islet, Captain John set our dredge (a small net box) down to the depths. We dragged the box from 17-35m of depth next to Wizard islet. This location is repeatedly used by Bamfield’s researchers to prevent damaging any larger area during research. Despite the area being regularly dredged what we brought up to the surface was still stunningly diverse!

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Captain John releases his marine treasure from the dredge

That small net box was alive with marine creatures and when we released them into our basin it became a treasure hunt through an incredible collection.

Upon first glance what could have been just a pile of marine debris was crawling with mysteries for us to uncover.

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Sorting our dredge contents in the tub aboard the Alta (pc: Maria Donaghey)

Our team set to work digging through dredge. The longer we dug the more amazing our findings became. Three small flatfish were the first to see as they wriggled through the collection, these mysterious creatures are fascinating with their sideset eyes that shift to the surface of the body in development.

 

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One of the teeny sea-star-stowaways pulled up near Wizard islet

We also saw an incredible number of invertebrates of many species: sea stars, cup corals, and some large sea cucumbers (to name just a small subset of our haul). We also found sea urchins covered in tapered hollow spines and moon snails with the fancy sand collars they make to hold and disperse their eggs. A number of small crabs skittered along the bottom crawling across a number of sea star species.

Before we knew it it was time to return our treasures to the deep, every last critter was returned: the ocean individuals to the bottom of the ocean, and the biology students to the Bamfield cafeteria for a terrific lunch. We left with a new appreciation for the wonder that is hidden just below the ocean’s surface.

A single photo cannot capture the amazing life we found, but you can watch reef floor nearby to our research site live at:

 www.oceannetworks.ca/sights-sounds/video/live-video/folger-pinnacle-reefcam

The wonderful Wizard islet had given us a show of marine life like none other, and yet worldwide the sea floor crawls with just as many fascinating creatures! One just needs to glance below the surface and they too can experience the magical world of the deep.

 

Shocking video shows mysterious creature found at Vancouver yacht club…

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The choppy footage taken by a student at the University of British Columbia shows us images of a creature unfamiliar to most, writhing its body as it moves across the screen…

The semi-transparent form of this creature with its eight (yes EIGHT!) miscellaneous limbs is enough to strike fear in the heart of any casual observer… and it flashes across the screen like a modern day alien sighting…

Its two sets of threatening claws have the fearsome name “gnathopods”, and are well equipped to hunt down victims of their attack… (typically teeny tiny microscopic organisms.)

BUT this is not just some extraterrestrial visitor…and it is not alone.

Students found dozens of such animals, and even brought them back into the classroom!

See more footage below, as dozens of such animals thrash around, hungry for the flesh of their enemies microscopic algae and little bits of marine waste.

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Turns out that our waters are crawling with these alien-esque individuals. In fact they are found in oceans worldwide, particularly close to shore…

YOU TOO could make this shocking discovery, all you have to do is….LOOK DOWN!

Down off the sides of docks at your local marina you will find a world crawling with these individuals! They are called CAPRELLIDS, and while videos may portray them as a terrifying beast the truth is… they’re pretty teeny, pretty harmless, and maybe even pretty cute.

Caprellids cling to whatever they can get their hands on, typically plant life and other slender invertebrates called Obelia. From their perch they swing their bodies in the water column to capture prey (and the attention of the any observant individual wandering around the marina!)

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have developed a guide that you can use to try and identify exactly which fascinating critter you are checking out when you’re hanging your head off the side of your local marina that you can find here!

Along with showing you their dance moves, the caprellids you find along the dock may also show their gentle caring side:

In our lab we saw just this when we observed gravid (pregnant) females closely to see their little fluttering “brood pouches” where they hold tight onto their growing babies. Of course these young are produced through an elegant romantic mating… after which they occasionally KILL THEIR MATE WITH A POISON CLAW!

…maybe this murderous little critter IS just as terrifying as we thought.