12 of the Most Interesting Snails in the World

The overlooked gastropod

Sergey Peterman/Shutterstock.

Snails just don't get enough credit. Although it's true that they're typically slow-moving, they're far from boring. There are snails that glow, armored snails, snails with lavish shells, transparent snails; there are even snails that could kill you. Meet the most interesting snails in the world — proof that patience truly is a virtue. (Text: Bryan Nelson)

Clusterwink

D. D. Deheyn/Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

This little-known sea snail puts on one of nature's most dazzling light shows. Capable of bioluminescence, the clusterwink flashes a brilliant green light whenever it is disturbed or threatened. Researchers believe these displays serve the snail by confusing or frightening predators.

Giant African snail

steamroller_blues/Shutterstock.

These very big, very hungry gastropods are the largest land snails on Earth. They can grow up to 8 inches long, with about a 4-inch diameter. That's roughly the size of the average adult's fist. They're also voracious eaters, known to feed on at least 500 types of plants. If fruits or vegetables are not available, the snails will devour whatever is available, including paint and stucco on houses. At least it’s a good thing they're vegetarian.

Candy cane snail

Wikimedia Commons.

Possibly the most colorful gastropods in the world, these charismatic little land snails native to the Caribbean island of Hispaniola are often referred to as "candy cane snails." They look like they've been painted, but the rainbow-colored shells are entirely natural.

Sea butterfly

Russ Hopcroft/NOAA.

They might not resemble a typical snail, but these elegant sea creatures are among the world's most abundant gastropods. Rather than use its foot to slither along the ground, a sea butterfly's foot has evolved into wing-like lobes, which the animal flaps to propel itself through the ocean. A number of species have lost their shells entirely for more efficient swimming.

Golden elephant snail

Igor Kanshyn/YouTube.

Resembling a cross between a snail, a mango and an elephant, this adorable gastropod looks like it might be a genetic experiment gone wrong. It uses its specialized "trunk" to sift through sand while looking for food.

Scaly-foot gastropod

Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology.

Discovered in 1999 more than 2 miles below the central Indian Ocean, the scaly-foot gastropod might be the world's best armored snail. It looks like it's covered in plated mail, and that impression isn't far off. The animal incorporates metals and sulfides that it gathers from hydrothermal vents into its shell. The shell's outer layer is fused with iron sulfide, covering the animal in metallic plates.

'Melting' snails

Alex Popovkin/Flickr.

The foot of flat-bodied South American snails of the genus Megalobulimus can be spread incredibly thin — so much so that the creatures look like they're melting. Some species have a more pronounced melting look than others.

Geographic cone snail

tomb0171/YouTube.

This is one snail to handle with extreme care: It's the most venomous of all snails and one of the most venomous creatures on the planet. The geographic cone snail's venom, a complex concoction of hundreds of toxins, is fired via a harpoon-like tooth propelled from an extendable proboscis. Although this snail travels leisurely, as most snails do, it nevertheless has one of the fastest "draws" in the animal kingdom, capable of firing its venomous harpoon at speeds as fast as 400 mph.

Purple bubble-raft snail

Wikimedia Commons.

Their beautiful violet shells are only part of what make these snails so interesting. Purple bubble-raft snails, or Janthina janthina, collect bubbles by enveloping air in mucus. They then use their bubbly concoctions as rafts for long-distance ocean travel.

Opisthostoma snails

J.J. Vermeulen/Wikimedia Commons.

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 that takes the cake with the most profound shell might be Opisthostoma vermiculum. Its shell has four coiling axes — the most for any known living gastropod.

Croatian cave snail

Alexander M. Weigand/Subterranean Biology.

This ghostly species, recently discovered in Croatia's Velebit caves — one of the deepest cave systems in the world — is particularly noteworthy for being almost entirely transparent. The see-through gastropods are true cave-dwellers and have lost their sense of sight.

Hairy trumpet snail

H. Zell/Wikimedia Commons.

The most sinister-looking shell in the snail world might belong to this intimidating gastropod, which has what appears to be spikes coming out of its shell. Though it does have a rather voracious appetite, the good news is that only vegetarian items are on the menu. The snail does have a habit of crawling out of its aquarium from time to time, however, which is kind of creepy.