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Function of the flexible periostracal hairs in Trichotropis cancellata (Mollusca, Gastropoda)

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The marine snail Trichotropis cancellata possesses hairy projections of periostracum (outer shell layer) whose function is unknown. Although rigid shell projections in molluscs have been studied extensively, the selective advantage of flexible extensions of periostracum is less clear. None of the functions proposed previously for periostracum (e.g., protection from erosion and boring) are promoted when it is drawn into hair-like projections. We investigated hypothetical functions that may be served by flexible periostracal hairs, including predator deterrence, alteration of flow vectors to promote feeding or affect turbulence dynamics during freefall, and providing a differential substratum for epibionts. Our laboratory results indicate that crabs, Cancer oregonensis, and sea stars, Pycnopodia helianthoides, consumed snails with the periostracum removed more often than snails with an intact hairy periostracum. However, in both predatory species, some individuals showed no significant preference, and another crab species (Cancer productus) did not strongly discriminate based on the shell periostracum. Field studies showed no difference in the rate of predation on hairy- versus smooth-shelled snails. The hairs did not alter flow around the shells consistently in laboratory flume experiments. Additionally, hairy- and smooth-shelled kleptoparasitic snails grew at rates that were statistically indistinguishable, while hairy, suspension-feeding snails grew more slowly. The hairs did not impact the orientation of a snail after a falling event or the time to righting after a fall. The presence of the hairs did deter settlement by barnacles. We conclude that the hairy periostracum acts as a slight deterrent to crab and sea star predators and as a stronger deterrent to the settlement of large calcareous epibionts, such as barnacles, that would increase the weight the snail must bear and potentially increase drag.

Keywords: epibionts; periostracum; predator defense; suspension feeding

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Biology Department, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pennsylvania 18104, USA

Publication date: June 1, 2008


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