10 Spectacular Snail Species

Rainbow-Striped Shells, 'Melting' Bodies, Self-Made Flotation Devices, and More

amazing snail species

Treehugger / Catherine Song

Snails make up a vast category of gastropods characterized by their slow pace and the spiral shells they use to house, hide, and protect their mucin-covered bodies. There are said to be some 35,000 species of snail, including terrestrial and aquatic species. Snails fall into the Mollusca phylum, the second largest phylum of invertebrates, and gastropods (snails and slugs) account for about 80% of it.

Gastropods are nearly as diverse as insects. Snails sometimes come with naturally armored, ornate, or transparent shells. Some glow. Others could kill a person.

Here are 10 of the most fascinating and unique-looking snail species on the planet.

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Candy Cane Snails

Rainbow-striped candy cane snail shell on sand
LagunaticPhoto / Getty Images

The candy cane snail (Liguus virgineus) is possibly the most colorful gastropod in the world. Sporting a white, conical shell decorated with distinctive rainbow-colored stripes, the charismatic snail can be found in the Caribbean—particularly on the island of Hispaniola. The candy cane snail is arboreal (it lives in trees), but it lays its eggs in the sand.

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Sea Butterflies

Group of naked sea butterflies swimming
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Sea butterflies (Thecosomata) are a suborder of pelagic snails. Instead of crawling along the moist forest floor, their feet have evolved into winglike lobes that allow them to swim around in the top roughly 80 feet of the Arctic and Southern Oceans. They are the world's most abundant gastropod, but they are threatened by ocean acidification. A number of species have lost their shells entirely to this phenomenon, and having no shell leaves their fragile skeletons naked and vulnerable.

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Giant African Snails

Giant African snail on a bed of leaves
Paul Starosta / Getty Images

Giant African snails (Achatina fulica) are the largest known land gastropods. They usually reach about seven inches long from nose to tail and roughly 3.5 inches in diameter, but the largest ever recorded was a whopping 15.5 inches long.

Unsurprisingly, they are voracious eaters, known to feed on some 500 types of plants. It's because of their insatiable appetites that they are considered an invasive species in the U.S. If fruits or vegetables are not available, the snails will devour whatever is available, including the paint and stucco on houses. (Don't worry, though, they're vegetarian.)

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Golden Elephant Snails

Close-up of large golden snail on pebbles

Yakov Oksman / Getty Images

The mango-colored golden elephant snail (Tylomelania zemis), otherwise known as the rabbit snail, has several distinguishing features. Firstly, its bright shade is quite recognizable, but not more so than its bunnylike "ears" and elephant-centric "trunk," hence its common names. The freshwater species also has an especially long, conical shell.

The golden elephant snail has an extremely limited distribution, mostly restricted to Indonesia's Lake Poso and Malili Lake systems. It really does use its trunk to search for food in the sand, but the "ears" are actually antennae.

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Melting Snails

Close-up of orangish, flat-bodied snail approaching

JarnoVerdonk / Getty Images

Flat-bodied South American snails are also called "melting" snails (Megalobulimus) because their pancake-thin bodies appear to spill out like melting butter on all sides of their shells. They are air-breathing and endemic to San Martín, Huánuco, and Cusco, Peru. There are more than 50 species within the genus Megalobulimus, belonging to the subfamily Megalobuliminae.

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Geography Cones

Snail with spots and mottled shell on coral reef
Reinhard Dirscherl / Getty Images

The geography cone (Conus geographus) is a common type of snail that occurs in the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, the Indo-Pacific region, and off the coast of Australia. Its shell has a distinctive mottled appearance and is highly coveted among collectors, but what really sets it apart from other snails? It's the most venomous snail—and, in fact, one of the most venomous creatures—in the world. It fires a complex concoction of toxins via a harpoonlike tooth propelled from an extendable proboscis at speeds of up to 400 mph.

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Violet Sea Snails

Violet sea snail with its "bubble raft" inflated on sand
CatMiche / Getty Images

The beautiful purple shell of the violet sea snail (Janthina janthina) is only part of what makes this gastropod so interesting. Otherwise known as the bubble-raft snail, the critter collects bubbles in its mucus, then uses its bubbly concoction as a raft for long-distance ocean travel. Floating is their only means of transportation as they cannot swim.

They can be found in warm tropical and temperate waters worldwide but high concentrations of them occur in the subtropical Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans.

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Opisthostoma Snails

Many spiral-shelled snails gathering on rock

Schilthuizen / Flickr / CC BY-SA 4.0

Opisthostoma is a genus of tiny land snails with some of the most fascinating shells in the snail world. Many species from this genus have shells that twist in complicated, tangled axes, but the species with the most ornate exterior is perhaps the Opisthostoma vermiculum, whose shell possesses the most discernible coiling axes (four) of any gastropod.

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Croatian Cave Snails

Transparent Zospeum tholussum on a pebbly surface

J. Bedek, Alexander M. Weigand / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

This ghostly Croatian cave snail (Zospeum tholussum) was discovered deep in the Lukina Jama–Trojama cave system—the deepest cave in Croatia and 14th deepest in the world—in 2013. Apart from being so recently described, it is also particularly noteworthy for being almost entirely transparent, even its shell. Because the see-through gastropods spend their entire lives in extreme darkness, they have no sense of sight.

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Hairy Triton's Trumpets

Two hairy triton shells on black background

xiao zhou / Getty Images

The most sinister-looking shell in the snail world might belong to the hairy triton's trumpet (Cymatium pileare), which resides in a spike- or "hair"-covered shell that juts off into a blunted point or "spire." Though it does have a rather voracious appetite, it's herbivorous and doesn't prey on other animals. Hairy triton's trumpets live in shallow water around coral.

How Do Snails Survive in Such Diverse Environments?

Snails can live on land, in fresh water, or in the sea. Each species is specially adapted to its environment with the following features:

  • Feet or "wings": Most snails have a foot adaptation that helps them move on land or on surfaces in the water. Species that swim instead of walk have feet that have evolved into winglike extremities.
  • Gills: Aquatic snails have gills, like fish, that suck the oxygen from water.
  • Venom: Depending on where they live, some snails need meat to survive. Carnivorous snails use poisonous venom to paralyze their prey before eating it.
  • Radula: The radula is how most snail species eat. It's a tonguelike band that contains tiny, microscopic teeth. It scrapes and cuts up food—mostly vegetation—before the snail swallows it.
View Article Sources
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