According to a recent study, a flying snail was found underwater. Scientists discovered a small species of aquatic snail that flies underwater. The species is also known as sea butterfly or Limacina helicina. Such a mollusk can be found only in Artic waters. They are known to feed on phytoplankton and small zooplankton.
Sea butterflies have the unique ability to fly underwater as insects fly in the air. They have small wings which bulge through their shells allowing them to survive in the marine environment. Researchers designed a system which allowed them to see how fluid moved around the sea butterfly as they were flying underwater.
The results showed the small creatures’ wings created a figure-eight pattern when they were moving. Experts said this pattern resembles airborne insects. Due to the fact that such specimens are not common, the researchers faced many difficulties in their study. The sea butterflies had to be moved across the country to the research lab in Atlanta. Experts shipped them overnight in an insulated cooler to keep them cold.
The water must be very clean to prevent dirty particles to stick to them. Once they arrived at the lab, the sea butterflies were put in a water tank with a V-shaped tube at its base. Experts also placed four high speed cameras in the tank in order to record creatures’ movements. They had to record the flying snails within few hours before the water conditions deteriorate.
Unlike many snails, which use a single fleshy foot to crawl, these specimens are propelled by wing-like protrusions, called parapodia. Except for a calcium carbonate shell, L. helicina are entirely gelatinous. As researchers said, it was very difficult to study these sea butterflies. David Murphy, a postdoctoral researcher of Johns Hopkins claimed:
“We were amazingly lucky to get these in such good shape from collaborators on the West Coast. We were also really lucky to get such good data out of them. It’s really hard to get the animals to swim right in front of the camera, but these behaved beautifully and gave us perfect data.”
Murphy also declared the results were very surprising as they showed many similarities to insect morphology. Genetically, sea butterflies and insects are not closely connected. Nonetheless, sea butterflies developed biological mechanism similar to insects due to convergent evolution.
According to scientists, the fact that a flying snail was found underwater is a great step in the science field and experts say they want to find more about these unique creatures. The study was published in the February issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology.
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