Will you choose beauty? The carnivorous Wavy Bubble Snail, perhaps, with its puffy skirts shimmering under UV light. Or will it be age? Like the venerable 500-year-old Methuselah oyster.
Or will you be seduced by the leopard slug with its gymnastic mating ritual?
The list of finalists for Mollusk of the Year has something for everyone.
In a public vote that ended on Sunday, five species of soft-bodied invertebrates are vying to follow in the illustrious path of previous winners, named “the world’s most beautiful snail” and “weirdest octopus.”
The big prize? The triumphant species will have its genome decoded to better understand its evolution and potential benefits to humanity.
The international Mollusk of the Year competition, which started this month, is organized by the Germany-based LOEWE Center for Translational Biodiversity Genomics.
Organizers have narrowed the field from 85,000 species of molluscs, thanks to nominations from researchers from around the world.
By default, contestants have a head, a gut, and a muscular “leg” for movement.
The group of animals is one of the most diverse in terms of shapes, sizes, habitats and behaviors, ranging from giant deep-sea squid to garden slugs.
Molluscs have been around for over 500 million years and are the second largest group of animals after insects.
But they are shrouded in mystery. “Of all the invertebrates, molluscs are the most valued by humans, but surprisingly they are an often neglected group in genomic research,” laboratory manager at the LOEWE Center TBG Carola Greve told AFP.
The contestants may be bare bones, but this year’s competition is fierce.
To help voters navigate the ballot, here’s a summary of the candidates:
Hailing from the rocky tides of the US Pacific coast, the thick-horned nudibranch is definitely the punkiest of the finalists.
The amazing sea slug is about the length of a matchstick, shines like frosted glass and has a distinctive shock of neon orange and white striped “horns”.
Used for breathing, these ostiums are also loaded with venomous stinging cells that poach from the prey they consume.
Decoding its genome would yield insights into the learning process—the species has a simple nervous system used to study conditioned behaviors, associative learning, and memory formation.
Giant of the deep
Looking for the secrets to longevity?
The giant Methuselah oyster can grow up to 30 cm (12 in) long and has a record-breaking lifespan of five centuries.
But the clam didn’t have a scientific name until 2009 because of its preference for living in inaccessible depths of about a kilometer in the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans.
Its larvae begin life as nomads before attaching to protective surfaces that become overhanging oyster reefs over time.
Decoding its genes would yield information about its extraordinary longevity.
If this election allowed appearances, Wavy Bubble Snail would be a front runner.
The only thing more psychedelic than its name is its electric rainbow, yellow shell and white spots.
“They are like little candies in a vast ocean full of invertebrate predators,” the prospective researchers told AFP.
In the shallow tidal pools of the Atlantic Ocean it calls home, this tiny species is almost impossible to spot.
But the fascinating carnivore – it eats tiny rings – has hidden talents: it glows green and red under ultraviolet light.
Its genetic code could unravel the evolutionary processes that lead to snail-specific structures and their jump from oceans to terrestrial environments.
The night leopard is the only land inhabitant to make the top five.
Known as the “gardener’s friend” due to its taste for detritus and fungus, the mollusk has an attractive brown and black pattern, can grow up to 20cm in length and is often kept as a pet.
“Do you know any other animal that—after courting for a few hours—will climb a tree together and then come down just to have sex?” said the candidate group.
Despite its leisurely pace, this hermaphrodite slug has spread from Europe to most other parts of the world.
A vote to study the genome of the leopard slug would shed light on its successful adaptation, especially to climate change.
Last but not least is the Chilean colic, also known as “loco” in its South American waters.
A top predator and keystone species, this rough sea snail with a shell length of up to 15 cm is also a global delicacy.
If successful, unlocking loco’s genome could reveal immunotherapy treatments for certain cancers and insights into how to protect marine invertebrates from overexploitation and pollution.
The winning mollusk will join the 2021 winner, the Greater Argonaut octopus – known as the paper nautilus because the females produce a thin shell to shield their eggs – and the impressive 2022 Cuban painted snail.
© 2023 AFP
Reference: It’s time to escape: who will be the “Molly of the Year”? (2023, March 17) retrieved March 17, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-03-slime-mollusc-year.html
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