Planktonic sea snails and slugs may be more adaptable to ocean acidification than expected

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IMAGE: Pteropods are split into two major groups: shelled sea butterflies (left) and sea angels (right) that lose their shell when they reach adulthood. These creatures have adapted from a life…
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Credit: Photos courtesy of Katja Peijnenburg and Erica Goetze

Pteropods, or “wing-footed” sea snails and slugs, may be more resilient to acidic oceans than previously thought, scientists report.

By digging into their evolutionary history, the research team found that pteropods are much older than expected and survived past crises when the oceans became warmer and more acidic.

Their findings, published on the 24th September 2020 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), are a surprising turn of events, as these beautiful and enigmatic marine creatures are currently one of the most adversely affected by ocean acidification.

“Pteropods have been infamously called the “canaries in a coal mine” –

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Sentinels of ocean acidification impacts survived Earth’s last mass extinction

Sentinels of ocean acidification impacts survived Earth's last mass extinction
Several species of planktonic gastropods, including five sea butterflies (shelled) and two sea angels (naked). Credit: Katja Peijnenburg, Erica Goetze, Deborah Wall-Palmer, Lisette Mekkes.

Two groups of tiny, delicate marine organisms, sea butterflies and sea angels, were found to be surprisingly resilient—having survived dramatic global climate change and Earth’s most recent mass extinction event 66 million years ago, according to research published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences led by Katja Peijnenburg from Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands.


Sea butterflies and sea angels are pteropods, abundant, floating snails that spend their entire lives in the open ocean. A remarkable example of adaptation to life in the open ocean, these mesmerizing animals can have thin shells and a snail foot transformed into two wing-like structures that enable them to ‘fly’ through the water.

Sea butterflies have been a focus for global change research because they

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