“Snail.” Perhaps your first thought on hearing that word is of a creature both slow and harmless. If you happen to be a clam or another sea snail, and a moon snail has you in it’s sights, think again! Almost any time you look for shells on the beach, you will find a shell with a neatly drilled, beveled, round hole in it. That hole was made by a predatory moon snail. Yes, predatory. And canabalistic. Moon snails don’t mess around.
This shell itself is fairly familiar. It is round, colorful, and often smooth or shiny when washed up onto the beach. For delicious shelled sea life, that pretty shell may be the last thing they see. The one pictured above is called a “shark’s eye.” Another common moon snail is called “baby’s ear.” There are over 250 species of moon snails, or Naticidae in oceans all around the world.
Moon snails stay shiny because they inflate their bodies with enough seawater to quadruple in size, with the resulting massive “foot” completely engulfing the shell while the snail goes about its business of plowing through the sand in search of prey. Welcome to the dark side of the moon…
Once a moon snail encounters a clam or a snail — even another moon snail — it engulfs its prey with that big foot. Once the meal-to-be is captured, the moon snail secretes a substance that softens the hard shell, and then scrapes away shell with its radula. (The radula is a sort of “tongue” covered with lots of “teeth.”) That rasping drill eventually breaks through the shell, and the resulting hole gives the moon snail access to the fleshy animal within. Some digestive enzymes are released, and the moon snail slurps up the partially pre-digested goo. Slurpees of the Sea… Yum!