It's hard to imagine an animal that sounds less worthy of being compared to a superhero than the worm-snail. But a newly discovered species called Thylacodes vandyensis is pretty much the Spiderman of stationary molluscs.
Thylacodes vandyensis. (Photo by Rüdiger Bieler, The Field Museum)
Like Spiderman, it shoots a spider-like mucus web out of its arms.
Snails normally use mucus to get around: They make trails of goo, which they slide across. But worm-snails spend their lives anchored to one spot, so their mucus has a different purpose.
In a recent article in the journal PeerJ, a group of researchers explains that for T. vandyensis, slime is less about movement and more about picking up dinner.
"The snails have an extra pair of tentacles down near the base of their body, almost like little arms. These tentacles are what they use to shoot slime," said the study's lead author, Rüdiger Bieler said in a statement. Bieler is curator of invertebrates at Chicago's Field Museum, which might be the most amazing job title we've ever heard.
"They shoot out a mucus web, just like Spiderman — although in slow motion. Then, microorganisms get stuck in the web, and the snails use their mouths to pull the web back in and strain the food through barbs on their tongues called radulae in order to eat. They filter-feed, much like baleen whales."
As cool as these shelled Spidermen sound, they do come with a downside: They appear to be invasive species in the Florida Keys, and they may even be endangering local coral and loggerhead sea turtles.