The Sea Snail: Wonder and Awe

By July 12, 2011 Ocean News

I recently came across a marine species that completely blew my mind! Sometimes we forget how cool the marine world is and what amazing animals occupy it. So when I randomly came across this little guy over the weekend I wanted to share.

Meet the Violet Sea Snail (Janthina janthina)

Photo Credit:

Ok, to start, the Violet Sea Snail (VSS) is completely blind. Can’t see a wink. Don’t forget this, because it makes all the rest even more incredible! They are about 4cm in size with extremely fragile shells.

The VSS is born male and turns into a female over time (protandric hermaphrodites). The VSS doesn’t use direct reproduction; instead as a male it makes a little parcel of sperm and releases it, hoping for the best. If the parcel finds a female, it fertilizes the eggs and the female then cares for the offspring until they are fully formed mini adults. Which right away are capable of…

Photo Credit:

….Building their own inflatable raft! This is amazing! And remember the VSS is as blind as the three mice. The VSS uses its foot to whip up a storm of bubbles and then before the bubbles burst it coats them in mucus to create its own personal raft. The raft, instead of surfing ON the waves, surfs along upside down UNDER the waves and if it breaks apart will spell the end of the snail.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the VSS eats some of the oceans most deadly floating critters, including the Portuguese Man’O’War. That’s some pretty serious stuff – a Portuguese Man’O’War’s sting can cause serious damage to a human. With the above water float being anywhere from 9 – 30cm and the tentacles hanging up to 50m below the surface, the VSS sure looks like the David in this story!

Photo Credit: Bill Rudman

Finally, the VSS does all this while rocking a pretty purple shell. Stylish, eh?

This animal goes from awesome to even awesome-er (to paraphrase Jack Black). I love the excitement that the marine environment can create and these days with so much going on I think it is terribly important to re-connect with what is awesome in nature. I know I’ll totally be looking out for these beautiful, fragile violet shells from now on and imagining the amazing experiences the animal must have had while drifting along the open ocean.

What awe-inspiring marine creature or feature have you encountered lately?

About The Author

Julie-Beth McCarthy is a marine conservationist with ten years of interdisciplinary research experience. She received her MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation, and Management from Oxford University in 2010 where her dissertation explored the role that marine culture and heritage could play in marine planning in Newfoundland, Canada. She is interested in all aspects of marine conservation, particularly those that exist at the intersection of different disciplines. Having lived and travelled across Canada, Europe, the UK, US, and Australia, Julie-Beth recently moved to the west coast of Canada and is looking forward to contributing to Canada’s marine conservation efforts.

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Neil says:

    Cool information and great pictures too! The Oceans really are a magical place and we all need to do our best to ensure that our Gran kids get to enjoy them like we do. It’s important to keep in mind that the oceans we love today are but the tip of the iceberg to what they once were and if we do not change our ways ASAP we will live to see an empty ocean basin in our own time here on Earth.

  • Jody Mathews says:

    I am reading “All the Light We Cannot See” and the author references the violet sea snail.

    It is very awesome to actually see the creature I’m reading about!

    Thank you for sharing!

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