• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Hard as Sea Snails

Air Date: Week of February 19, 2010

stream/download this segment as an MP3 file

A soldier is deterred by the scaly-foot snail’s hard shell. (Image: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation)

Researchers believe that better body and vehicle armor could be modeled on the shell of the scaly-foot snail, a tiny gastropod that lives on the floor of the Indian Ocean. Emily Guerin reports.

Transcript

YOUNG: Coming up – an author finds deep insight by looking at the ways animals hide. But first this Note on Emerging Science from Emily Guerin.

[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]

GUERIN: The scaly-foot snail was only discovered in 2001, but the deep-sea dweller has already made a big splash in the scientific world. Its super-hard shell has MIT researchers wondering if armor could be modeled on the tiny creature.

The snail lives 6,000 feet under the sea next to “black smokers,” sea-floor chimneys that spew superheated water from under the earth’s crust. The little gastropod must tolerate pressure of up to 4,400 pounds per inch and acidic water that can range from near freezing to a piping hot 750 degrees Fahrenheit. To top it off, the scaly-foot must ward off attacks from crabs and other snails.


A soldier is deterred by the scaly-foot snail’s hard shell. (Image: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation)

But the scaly-foot has adapted to its unwelcoming home. It sports a tri-layered shell that can take a predator days to break through. The thin outer layer, made of iron sulfide, is the strongest. When attacked, it develops tiny cracks, dissipating the energy and preventing larger cracks from forming.

The middle layer is spongy and shock resistant like a bike helmet, and may also absorb heat. The inner layer is made of calcium carbonate, a common shell material that would erode in the acidic water if not protected by the other layers.

Scientists believe the tiny scaly-foot snail could teach them a lot about structural engineering, and may one day inspire a new generation of body and vehicle armor. It’s a lot of pressure to put on such a small creature, but pressure is one thing this snail is used to. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Emily Guerin.

[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]

 

Links

For more on the steely snail, click here.

 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Newsletter
Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.

Committed to healthy food, healthy people, a healthy planet, and healthy business.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live.

Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.