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Iron-Plated Snail Discovered


Snails are tasty morsels, much appreciated by carnivores ranging from humans to birds to their own predatory relatives such as cone snails. Now biologists have found a snail that extracts iron from seawater and encases its body and even its foot in interlocking metallic plates.

The weird creature was reported in Science by Anders Waren of the Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm, and colleagues. Their research team discovered the as-yet-nameless snail 1.6 miles down at the foot of a black smoker in a hydrothermal vent in the Indian Ocean. The remote-controlled submarine collected many species new to science.

Waren's attention was drawn to the snail when his forceps kept sticking to its magnetized plates. Although the creature looks remarkably like many scaly beasts from the Cambrian Period some 500 million years ago, genes and morphology reveal that it is a modern snail closely related to other common groups of snails. Waren reports that the armor is made up of pyrite and greigite, two iron sulfide minerals abundant in the hot, mineral-saturated waters of hydrothermal vents. This is the first time that an animal has been found to use iron sulfides for structural purposes.
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