A multi-colored toothy animal with a powerful tongue and the ability to shoot large webs has just been discovered living on the shipwreck USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, which served as a transport ship during World War II.
When Rüdiger Bieler of the Field Museum and his colleagues first set eyes on the animal, which they determined to be a new species of vermetid, or marine worm-snail, they were reminded of a fictional superhero: Spider-Man.
“Vermetids are unique among snails in that they have evolved a set of special slime-ejecting tentacles,” Bieler told Seeker. “These two arm-like tentacles have slits at their tip that release strands of a sticky material that can make a web... so, yes, the Spider-Man analogy is there — although the ‘shooting’ happens at a snail’s pace.”
He and his team named the new species Thylacodes vandyensis after the “Vandy,” the nickname the SCUBA diving community has given to the retired naval vessel, which was intentionally sunk in 2009 to serve as an artificial reef in the lower Florida Keys. They detail the worm-snail's discovery in a paper published in the journal PeerJ.
Bieler, senior author Timothy Collins of Florida International University, and their colleagues compared samples of the worm-snail to other vermetid specimens housed at the Field Museum. Finding no match, they analyzed the DNA of the animals and confirmed that the shipwreck-dwelling creature represents a new species.
Instead of having coiled shells like most snails, worm-snails live within irregularly shaped tubular shells that they attach to hard surfaces. The animals are reddish tan in color, but can take on a blue hue in photographs snapped underwater. When removed from water, the shells appear to be mostly sandy light brown.