The ocean is full of oddities. There are gigantic squid, eels that look like they’re part of a gymnast’s floor routine, and a killer shrimp with a punch that’d put Mike Tyson on his ass, just to name a few. And it just keeps getting weirder. Marine biologists have just found what looks like a crazy disco snail. No word on if it parties.
The researchers found the gastropods while studying the nightlife of the Red Sea, armed with UV lights to scope out the underwater scene. The shells of little snails shone back, speckled with what looked like “garlands” of little lights.
But it wasn’t the snails themselves making the seabottom look like a starry night. The shells of these Nassarius snails, Lomonosov Moscow State University biologist Andrey Prudkovsky and coauthors write in a new report, glow because of fluorescent proteins in the stalks of jellyfish cousins called hydroids. They plant themselves on the hard surface of the shell, creating an effect not unlike those fiber-optic Christmas trees that look cool until you realize the ’90s are over.
Why the tentacled invertebrates make the shells of these specific snails look like mirror balls isn’t known. And it isn’t clear why the little polyps evolved the ability to glow under certain kinds of light. But study coauthor Viatcheslav Ivanenko suggests that similar associations probably exist in shallow waters around the world. All researchers have to do is shine a UV light around to see what’s up. Who knew that the ocean and Spencer’s Gifts would have so much in common?