Cone snails wander in circles, lose focus with boosted CO2

cone and jumping snails

Cone snails (right) love to eat jumping snails (left). Research suggests that the behavior of both predator and prey may be affected by ocean acidification.


Cone snails, normally stealthy hunters, become clumsy and unfocused in water with increased levels of carbon dioxide.

As atmospheric CO2 levels rise, so do levels in the ocean, changing the chemistry of the seawater and causing ocean acidification. Cone snails (Conus marmoreus) that spent several weeks in water dosed to simulate CO2 levels predicted for the end of the 21st century had trouble catching their favorite snack, jumping snails. Only 10 percent caught and ate their prey, compared with 60 percent of snails living in water with current CO2 levels, researchers report February 1 in Biology Letters.

While the higher-CO2 snails were more active in general, they moved in “wiggly lines, and some even went in a circle,” says study coauthor and marine biologist Sue-Ann Watson of James Cook University in Townsville, Australia.

In a previous study, Watson showed that jumping snails were less able to escape attacking cone snails when exposed to higher levels of CO2 (SN Online: 11/12/13). Together, the studies are the first to show the effects of ocean acidification on the behavior of both invertebrate predators and their prey, Watson says.

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