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Press Release 10-010

The Fantastic Armor of a Wonder Snail

Exoskeleton of newly discovered gastropod mollusk could improve load-bearing materials

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Illustration showing the coat that protects a deep-sea gastropod from a knight's lance.

A recently discovered gastropod from the Kairei Indian hydrothermal vent, called Crysomallon squamiferum, has an unusual shell structure superbly suited for protecting it against penetration attack. The outer layer is granular and composed of iron sulfide. The middle layer is much thicker than other mollusks generally have. These key points could be important in molluscan-inspired vehicle or personnel armor construction.

In this illustration, a knight attacks the gastropod with a lance, but the gastropod's iron-plated armor withstands his advance.

Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation, inset after Haimin Yao et al., PNAS, January 2010


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Image showing the outer layer of the scaly-foot gastropod that is fused with granular iron sulfide.

The so-called "scaly-foot gastropod," a gastropod mollusk found in the Kairei Indian hydrothermal vent field below the central Indian Ocean is a rare find for researchers. It has a unique, tri-layered shell--a highly calcified inner layer, a thick organic middle layer and an extraordinary outer layer fused with granular iron sulfide--that may hold insights for future mechanical design principles.

Credit: Dr. Anders Warén, Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm, Sweden.


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