New worm-snail is a super slimer

Invasive species in Florida Keys shoots ‘copious amounts of mucus’ to catch prey


DOWN THE HATCH  Thylacodes vandyensis, a new species of worm-snail named after the ship it was found on, oozes out a mucus web to trap prey. It then reels the web back in, eating both prey and the web itself.

© Rüdiger Bieler/The Field Museum

A new species of worm-snail is rather snotty. Thylacodes vandyensis shoots out strands of mucus that tangle together, building a spiderweb-like trap for plankton and other floating snacks, researchers report April 5 in PeerJ.

Other worm-snails use this hunting technique, but T. vandyensis stands out because of the “copious amounts of mucus” it ejects, says coauthor Rüdiger Bieler. This goo net, which can stretch up to 5 centimeters across, exits the animal’s tentacles at, of course, “a snail’s pace,” jokes Bieler, a curator at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

Like other worm-snails, T. vandyensis permanently glue themselves to spots. Bieler found T. vandyensis, which typically grow half as tall as a pinkie finger, on the hull of a sunken ship in the Florida Keys. But they don’t belong there: DNA analysis shows that this invasive species’ closest relatives are in the Pacific Ocean. The worm-snail may have made its way to the Atlantic as a stowaway on a ship.

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