Scientists have discovered a tiny ancient snail that could have used hairs sprouting out of its shell to help it find mates.
The creature was found in a 99 million-year-old piece of amber studied by the Senckenberg Society for Nature Research in Frankfurt, Germany.
They found the snail’s shell was covered in fine hairs that almost certainly gave it an evolutionary advantage.
And one expert Dr Adrienne Jochum revealed: “It cannot be ruled out that the hairs provided an advantage in sexual selection.”
Newsflash obtained a statement from the Senckenberg Society for Nature Research in Frankfurt, Germany, on Tuesday, 25th October, saying (in English) that the tiny hairs “likely offered an evolutionary advantage to Mesozoic land snails”.
The team, led by Dr Jean-Michel Bichain of the Museum of Natural History and Ethnography in Colmar, France, explained: “The presence of hairs may have offered the mollusks a selective advantage in their evolution.”
The statement said: “The fine hairs, measuring only 150 to 200 micrometers in length, were detected on the shell of the newly discovered species Archaeocyclotus brevivillosus sp. nov. using classical microscopy and 3D X-ray micro-computed tomography.”
Dr Adrienne Jochum, of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt and the Natural History Museum in Bern, Switzerland, said: “This is already the sixth species of hairy-shelled Cyclophoridae, a group of tropical land nails, found so far embedded in Mesozoic amber, about 99 million years old.”
She added: “It is not uncommon for the shells of fossil and present-day land snails to be embellished with ridges, hairs, nodules, or folds; however, the development of such ‘decoration’ is still a complex process that usually does not occur without a purpose.”
She went on: “The hairs on snail shells are formed by the uppermost proteinaceous shell layer (periostracum). Hairy shells are known from several families of land snails, including woodland snails or Polygyridae snails, suggesting that hairiness arose several times independently during the evolution of land snails, even in groups that were only distantly related.”
And Jochum added: “The new species, Archaeocyclotus brevivillosus, originates from a Cretaceous amber mine in the Hukawng Valley in Burma, where it was collected prior to 2017.
“The fossil snail is 26.5 millimeters long, 21 millimeters wide, and 9 millimeters tall. The shell’s outer margin is lined with short hairs that are bunched around the shell opening. Its name derives from the Latin words brevis (short or small) and villōsus (hairy or shaggy).”
The statement said: “A total of eight species of the family Cyclophoridae have been recovered from Burmese amber, and six of them featured bristly shells. The scientists believe that this is no coincidence. They assume that the hairiness offered the snails an evolutionary advantage.”
Jochum said: “For example, the hairs could improve the animals’ ability to better cling to plant stalks or leaves – something that has already been observed in present-day snails. They may also have played a role in thermal regulation for the snail by allowing tiny water droplets to adhere to the shell, thereby serving as an ‘air conditioner.’
“Or they may have protected the snail shell from being corroded by the highly acidic soil and leaf litter of the ancient tropical forest floor. The bristles could also have served as camouflage or protected the snail against a direct attack by stalking birds or soil predators. And finally, it cannot be ruled out that the hairs provided an advantage in sexual selection.”
The team’s findings have been published in the academic journal Cretaceous Research.