Saturday, June 13, 2009

Left-handed Snails Beat Snail-eating Snakes

Masaki Hoso reported that the snail-eating snake, Pareas iwasakii, has lopsided jaws to better enable it to tug snails out of their shells. Most snails have shells that whirl clockwise (to the right) so P. iwasakii has evolved an upper jaw with more teeth on the right side than the left. In a sample of 28 snakes, the Hoso found each one had an average of 17.5 teeth on its left jaw and 24.9 teeth on the right.
The lack of symmetry helps the snake pry the snails out of their shells with alternate retractions of their left and right jaws, a technique called "mandible walking".

Here's a video of the snake preying upon a "right-handed" snail.

The snail, Satsuma c. caliginosa, has countered the snake's adaptation by evolving a left-handed swirling pattern.

Hoso et al. write in Biology Letters:
In addition, our experiments demonstrate a defensive function of sinistrality for snails against snake predators. Sinistral variants have been generally considered to suffer selective disadvantages on account of the overwhelming predominance of dextrals (Vermeij 1975, 2002; Johnson 1982; Gould et al. 1985; Asami et al. 1998; but see Dietl & Hendricks 2006). However, sinistrals should enjoy a selective advantage over dextrals under chirally biased predation by snakes. The remarkable diversity of sinistral snails in Southeast Asia (Vermeij 1975; Hoso et al. 2006, unpublished data) may be attributable to ‘right-handed predation’ by the snakes.
In the video below, P. iwasakii attacks but fails to consume the lefty snail.

How cool is that?

Hoso, M., Asami, T., & Hori, M. (2007). Right-handed snakes: convergent evolution of asymmetry for functional specialization Biology Letters, 3 (2), 169-172 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2006.0600
Evolution 2009


  1. I missed this talk, but that is cool.

    Any word as to whether snail ministers try to pray their left "handedness" away?

  2. V.Wiese, German Malacological SocietySunday, September 6, 2009 at 5:51:00 AM EDT

    would like to see the real left-handed video - unfortunately both of these videos are showing right handed snails :-) otherwise very interesting facts, really exciting. Looking forward to get more information about these ...

  3. I agree with V.Wiese - Aren't both snails in the video clips dextral?...

  4. Being right handed was good enough for Jeebus, it should be good enough for the snail.

  5. what is the order of the left handed snail?