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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Appleseed and leopard skin?

On 27 November 2013, I showed a picture of one of my favorite marine snails, an Appleseed Erato (Hespererato vitellina).  To review, below is one of the images from that post:

What I didn't reveal at that time was that although I have found shells of this species, I had never found one alive...until now.

And this is one fancy snail!  Although "appleseed" is a good name for the shell, "leopard skin" might be a better description for the mantle, or the soft parts that extend up over the shell:

Here's a close-up of those spots and golden flecks that make your eyes widen.  It's hard not to say, "Wow!"

The snail's eyes look just like all of those black spots.  You can see one eye in the image below by following the lowest tentacle from its tip to its basethe eye is the first black spot you come to before you move up onto the rest of the body.

Besides black and gold, there were also quite a few orange spots.  They were especially noticeable on the snail's foot:

Appleseed Eratos are found in the low intertidal and subtidal zones along rocky shores.  Not much is known about their biology, but it's likely that they're associated with compound ascidians (sea squirts) i.e., they probably live among them, eat them, and lay their eggs in them.  

While their dramatic spotted and flecked mantle stands out to us, especially against a black background, it probably serves as excellent camouflage when the snail is crawling over the surface of an ascidian.

Bodega Bay is the northern range limit for this species, so we're lucky that we get to enjoy this beautiful snail! 

P.S.  Appleseed Eratos are in the Triviidae family, sometimes referred to as "false cowries."  This name has been applied to them for a few reasonsnot only are some of their shell characteristics similar to those of true cowries, but as you can see in these pictures, they also share an unusual ability to completely cover their shell with their mantle.


Emily said...

Wow, I am familiar with the shells, but I had no clue this is what they looked like! So pretty.

- Emily

Allison said...

Thank you for this post! I found two of these at Point Pinos this morning and didn't know what it was. Someone on Facebook pointed me towards an iNaturalist photo, which got me started looking up Hespererato vitellina and I found your post. My little snails look exactly like yours.