A hairy snail crawled under the feet of dinosaurs

(ORDO NEWS) — A strange mollusk lived on our planet 99 million years ago and looked like an ordinary coil, but its shell was covered with short bristles.

Scientists do not yet know why exactly such snails needed “furry” shells, but they suggest that there were good reasons for the appearance of this unusual anatomical feature.

The shells of snails, both modern and fossil, are often covered with the most unusual outgrowths: nodules, spines, ridges and folds.

So, for example, in a pagoda snail ( Brotia pagodula ), often found in amateur aquariums, the shell resembles a Chinese pagoda, and in a prickly murex ( Poirieria zelandica ), the shell looks like a hedgehog bristling with thorns.

However, snails that lived in the Cretaceous period in what is now Myanmar had a spiral shell covered with the finest bristles only 150 to 200 micrometers long.

Not surprisingly, the international team of scientists who described the mollusk named the new snail species Archaeocyclotus brevivillosus : the species name means “short-haired.”

The “hairs” of the snail, of course, have nothing to do with real wool: they are simply outgrowths of the uppermost protein layer of the shell. However, why did the ancient snail need such “hairiness”?

Scientists suggest that in a warm Cretaceous climate, such a shell could serve for thermoregulation: water droplets clung to tiny bristles and did not roll down, cooling the body of the mollusk.

Other explanations for this strange anatomical detail are also not ruled out: perhaps the layer of water served to protect the snail from the acidic environment of forest litter or helped to hide from predators, or maybe the water had nothing to do with it, and the bristles themselves attracted snails of the opposite sex.

In any case, some modern snails in the Polygyridae family also have similar “hairs,” so that, whatever their function, they have been quite useful for almost a hundred million years.

A hairy snail crawled under the feet of dinosaurs 2
Modern snail Neohelix dentifera , one of the owners of the “hairy” shell

It is likely that bristles on the shell arose independently in at least two evolutionary lines of snails (the ancient Archaeocyclotus brevivillosus and modern polyhyd snails are quite distant relatives), although scientists have yet to figure out what exactly they are needed for.


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