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In bubble-rafting snails, the eggs came first
Date:10/11/2011

ogy and a curator of mollusks at the U-M Museum of Zoology. "The first was that bubble rafting evolved from juvenile droguing." In many species of marine snails, the juveniles produce a mucus thread called a drogue that helps them drift from place to place like a kite on a string. Adding air-filled mucus bubbles to the drogue thread could result in something resembling a bubble raft.

The other possibility was that rafts represent modified egg masses. In wentletraps, which belong to the family Epitoniidae, females remain on their hosts, attached by stretchy mucus threads to tethered egg masses. These egg masses typically have egg capsules in various stages of development, from newly encased embryos to empty husks, and the researchers reasoned that in an intertidal species, the empty husks might trap air, making the egg mass and attached female temporarily buoyant. As in the drogue scenario, adding mucus-filled bubbles to this ephemeral raft could lead to development of permanent bubble rafts. Either way, getting to the surface would give the snails access to a completion-free food source: floating jellyfish.

To know which scenario was correct, the researchers needed to find a transitional form---a janthinid with characteristics that fall somewhere between the bottom-dwelling epitoniids and the permanently-rafting janthinid known as the common purple snail (Janthina janthina). They got a break when they received a preserved specimen of the rare rafting snail Recluzia from Australia.

"I started to dissect it, and when I pulled the float away I noticed that there were tiny Recluzia on the float and egg capsules of the large female," Churchill said. These hitchhiking juveniles suggested a life history consistent with the egg mass hypothesis. They also suggested an explanation for how the rare Recluzia manages to survive.

"Immediately we started thinking about dwarf males, which are known from a variety of molluscan groups," C
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Contact: Jim Erickson
ericksn@umich.edu
734-647-1842
University of Michigan
Source:Eurekalert  

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