SOTW: Underwater Butterfly... Snails

Greetings everybody!

Happy Friday and as always I hope you have had an awesome week. I was wondering what this week's post was going to be all about and then I watched the Emmys and became inspired by one of my favourite TV shows success 'Stranger Things' (love it so much!). Honouring the great series I decided for this weeks post to focus on a rather strange type of species known as the Sea Butterflies. 

Image Source

Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Gastropoda
Conservation Status: Unknown
Habitat: You would find these little navigating their way around the cold waters of the Northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
Size: They are literally the size of a lentil!(less than 1cm in length)

First things first. As indicated by this species phylogeny they may be called sea butterflies but make no mistake these beautiful little guys are pteropods (sea snails). Amazingly they swim through the water similar to how an insect flies, by flapping their 'feet' which have remarkably grown into wings. 

Like terrestrial snails, the majority of sea snails have shells on their backs these can range in both size and shape from, globules, whorls and even the shape of cones. Being the size of a lentil the dietary preferences for sea snails is restricted to smaller organisms - microscopic plankton. Indeed, sea butterflies rely solely on plankton. This may seem really unfair at first glance but the biomass (amount) of plankton vastly outweighs that of every marine animal in the oceans so really the sea snails have access to an untapped buffet. 

Image Source

However, it is the rules of the food chain that those that eat are also in the line to get eaten. Sea butterflies make up the very basis of multiple food chains. Their abundance, as well as their high levels of nutrition, make them desirable to cod, salmon and mackerel. Losing such a source would spell our disaster for marine food chains. 

How the sea butterfly spelled out the future of the world's oceans to scientists? 

It all began at the start of the millennium. Victoria Fabry (a biologist) found herself on a boat in the North Pacific, this is where she stumbled across a startling and worrying discovery of our oceans future in the contents of a jar. Victoria collected species of sea butterfly in plastic bottles and filled them with sea water after doing so she fastened the top of the bottle and left them for varying amount of time. 

Victoria returned back to her specimens and opened the bottle that had been left the longest. Her observations were able to be seen with the naked eye making it all the more troubling. The specimen continued to swim in the bottle but its beautiful pyramid shaped shell had begun to dissolve. 

Image Source

Victoria may not have been aware at the time of sealing her jars but she had simulated an environment whereby Carbon Dioxide levels in the water  had increased. Increasing Carbon Dioxide present in the water meant that the seawater became mildly acidic. Such a small increase in acidity of the sea water had such a large and visible impact on the shells of the sea butterflies. 

Image Source: process of ocean acidification

Our consumption of fossil fuels has led to a massive injection of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere a major factor in the greenhouse gas effect. This study made everybody stop looking into the skies in regards to climate change and focus on the oceans. Our oceans have played a huge role in absorbing some of the released Carbon Dioxide and in doing so have altered the very chemistry that makes up the world's oceans as well as adversely affecting the organisms that live in it. 

Well that was all for this week guys! The moral here is there are many strange things in the sea and if you haven't already you should watch stranger things! Have an awesome weekend
Over and out

No comments

It's all about breathtaking and blockbusting science here on BioBunch. If you have an idea on what should be featured on the blog, leave a comment below... or just leave one to say hi!
Looking forward to hearing from you and enjoy the blog

Back to Top