Tiny Snails Live On After Being Eaten By Birds

tiny snail photo
Photo: iJammin / cc
In nature, survival of the fittest usually means being fast or stealthy enough to avoid getting eaten -- but with those two options off the table, one species of tiny snail has found another way to cope. Scientists in Japan have recently discovered that when white-eye birds gobble up a species of land snail, it's not necessarily game over for the slow prey. Like a miniature molluskan Hercules fighting its way through the depths of Hades and back, many of these tiny snails manage a way to survive the perilous journey through the birds' digestive tract, arriving unscathed at the other end -- and it may all be for a greater cause.According to a researchers from Japan's Tohoku University, a species of small land snails, Tornatellides boeningi, can survive despite being eaten by avian predators -- and the experience may be an important one for the success of their offspring. Laboratory tests found that an astonishing 15 percent of these snails consumed by white-eye birds arrived to the end of the digestive cycle in good health, enough in some cases to give birth shortly after their trip through the tract.

As it turns out, the snails may actually be benefitting from being undigested bird food. Scientists had puzzled over how the species had become so far-distributed throughout the Japanese island of Hahajima -- but the research suggests they've been getting a lift. Not unlike plants which take advantage of birds to spread their seeds over long distances by 'passing' them, the snails could be using the same method to expand their territories.

"This is the first study showing that birds can indeed transport a substantial [number of] micro land snails in their gut alive," researcher Shinichiro Wada said in a report from the BBC.

It is not known yet whether the snails have actually evolved with an ability to survive being eaten, and subsequently deposited out the other end of birds, or if it's a circumstantial advantage that happenstance has afforded them. Either way, it's nice to know that the tiniest, slowest moving species can find a way to defy the expectations of both highly-educated scientists and hungry birds that they are simply an easy meal for the taking. In fact, I'm sure they'd pooh-pooh any suggestion to the contrary.

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