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Scientists discover 'margarita snail' species in the Florida Keys

The lemon-colored snail was found in the depths of the only living coral barrier reef in the continental U.S.
Scientists discover 'margarita snail' species in the Florida Keys
Posted at 12:48 PM, Oct 12, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-12 14:48:44-04

Scientists have discovered a new, bright yellow snail in the Florida Keys, and they’re appropriately calling it the “margarita snail.”

The lemon-colored snail was found in the depths of the only living coral barrier reef in the continental U.S. The Field Museum in Chicago, which participated in the study of this new species, said the gastropod has a lime-green cousin in Belize. 

When discovered, the brightly-colored snails were placed in a new genus named Cayo, after the Spanish word for a small, low island. The yellow snail was then named Cayo margarita after Jimmy Buffett’s famous song “Margaritaville,” which has long been associated with the Florida Keys. 

They’re also nicknamed “worm snails,” according to the Field Museum. 

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“I find them particularly cool because they are related to regular free-living snails, but when the juveniles find a suitable spot to live, they hunker down, cement their shell to the substrate, and never move again,” said Rüdiger Bieler, curator of invertebrates at the Field Museum in Chicago and the study’s lead author. “Their shell continues to grow as an irregular tube around the snail’s body, and the animal hunts by laying out a mucus web to trap plankton and bits of detritus.”

The new species belong to the same family of marine snails as the invasive “Spider-Man” snail that the same team found off the Florida Keys in 2017, the Field Museum said. 

Bieler said they believe the snails develop in different color variations as a way to confuse fish and not give them a clear target. 

Scientists also said this new discovery highlights the importance of protecting the coral reef. 

“It's another indication that right under our noses, we have undescribed species,” said Bieler. “This is in snorkeling depth in a heavily touristed area, and we’re still finding new things all around us.”


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