Snails and slugs are only two examples of the many fascinating species of gastropods? Gastropods are some of the most common animals on Earth and can be found in oceans, rivers, lakes, forests, and even in our own backyard gardens.
From the colorful sea snails of coral reefs to the slimy slugs that munch on our vegetables, here are 9 examples of gastropods you might encounter in the natural world.
What Is a Gastropod?
Gastropods are a type of mollusk that includes snails, slugs, and conchs. Gastropods have a single shell or none at all. They have a muscular foot which allows them to crawl along the ground, rocks, and even other creatures.
Their body is covered by a mantle which helps protect their soft parts from predators. Gastropods have some of the most diverse shells in the animal kingdom.
They can range from small and simple conical shapes to elaborate whorls and spires. Many species use their shells as protection against predators, while others use it to camouflage themselves or even as a flotation device.
9 Examples of Gastropods
1. Giant African snail
Scientific name: Achatina fulica
The Giant African snail, also known as the East African land snail, is one of the largest terrestrial gastropods in the world. It can grow up to 20 cm in length and has a distinctive, conical shell with vertical stripes.
They are native to many parts of Africa and feed on various fruits, vegetables, and other organic matter. The Giant African snail is considered a pest in many areas due to its voracious appetite and ability to damage crops. They are also utilized as a source of food, particularly in West Africa, where they are often made into a popular stew.
2. Leopard slug
Scientific name: Limax maximus
The leopard slug can be found in many parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, and North America. It gets its name from the distinctive pattern on its back which looks like the spots of a leopard.
These slugs are hermaphrodites and can reproduce both sexually and asexually. They typically grow up to 5 inches in length and they have a slimy, light tan outer body with a leopard-like pattern on their backs.
The leopard slug is mainly nocturnal, coming out of hiding during the night to feed on dead insects, decaying plants, and fungi. It is also a scavenger and can be found in gardens, forests, fields, and even inside buildings.
3. Red-rimmed melania
Scientific name: Melanoides tuberculata
The Red-rimmed melania is a freshwater gastropod found in warm climates throughout the world. It has become an invasive species in many countries, having spread from its native range in Asia and Africa to Europe, North America, South America, and even Australia.
The shell of this species is around 1.5 inches long and is typically yellowish in color with bright red markings along the edge. The shell has five to six whorls, with the body of the snail located inside. The Red-rimmed melania mainly feeds on algae, but it can also feed on organic matter in the water.
4. Garden snail
Scientific name: Cornu aspersum
The garden snail is a species of terrestrial gastropod mollusk found in gardens and cultivated lands around the world. They can be identified by their large, brownish-gray shells which are typically coiled in two or three spiral whorls. Garden snails are omnivorous and feed on decaying plant matter, fungi, and even other snails.
They are typically active at night and can sometimes be found in large numbers under stones or logs. Garden snails have become a pest in many parts of the world, causing significant damage to crops. However, they are also used as food in some countries, such as France, where they are known as escargot.
5. Channeled applesnail
Scientific name: Pomacea canaliculata
The channeled applesnail is a species of freshwater gastropod found in South America. It has been introduced to many other parts of the world, including North America, Europe, and Asia.
The snail can range from 2-5 cm in size and has a yellowish-tan shell. It feeds on algae, aquatic plants, and detritus.
It serves as an important food source for many other animals and helps to control algae growth. The channeled applesnail can reproduce rapidly due to its ability to lay multiple eggs at once and can reach full maturity in just a few months.
6. Common periwinkle
Scientific name: Littorina littorea
The common periwinkle is one of the most common species found along shorelines throughout the world. It has a smooth, spiral-shaped shell that can range in color from grey to brownish-red with dark stripes or blotches. This species has a broad range of habitats, preferring rocky shores, muddy or sandy estuaries, and salt marshes.
They are herbivorous, feeding on seaweed and algae that they scrape off rocks with their radula, a tongue-like structure. The common periwinkle plays an important role in its native ecosystems by helping to keep algae growth in check. This species is also harvested for human consumption, making it one of the most economically important gastropods.
7. Blue sea dragon
Scientific name: Glaucus atlanticus
The Blue sea dragon is native to tropical and temperate seas around the world. These sea slugs are one of the most unusual-looking creatures in the ocean. Blue sea dragons can be identified by their bright blue color, long tentacles, and flattened body shape, which allows them to float on the surface of the water.
These shell-less gastropods feed on jellyfish and other small prey such as shrimp and fish eggs. Their bodies are covered in a layer of mucus which helps them to blend into the water and guard against predators. In addition, they have special organs called cerata that can store stinging cells from their prey, allowing them to defend themselves if needed.
8. New Zealand mud snail
Scientific name: Potamopyrgus antipodarum
The New Zealand mud snail is an aquatic animal native to New Zealand and Australia. This species grows to be 4-6mm in length, making it one of the smallest gastropods in existence. It has a dark brown shell with 4-5 whorls and can be found in a variety of freshwater habitats including rivers, ponds, lakes, and streams.
The New Zealand mud snail feeds on algae, detritus, and other small organisms. They are able to rapidly adapt to changing environmental conditions and are tolerant of pollution, which has allowed them to invade new habitats rapidly.
9. Leaf slug
Scientific name: Lehmannia marginata
Leaf slugs have a yellowish-brown body and a large, flattened head with two eyes and two tentacles. Their body is slimy and can reach up to 2 cm in length.
Leaf slugs are herbivores and feed on decaying plant material, fungi, lichens, and algae. They can be found under logs, stones, or other debris during the day to keep cool and moist.
They reproduce by laying small yellowish eggs in clusters on leaves or other plant material. Leaf slugs are very common and play an important role in the environment as they help to break down decaying organic matter into nutrients.
They also serve as food for many species of birds, mammals, and amphibians. Leaf slugs can be beneficial to humans too – they help to keep gardens and crops free from pests.