World’s Chillest Snails Named After Jimmy Buffett
Meet Cayo margarita.
The late, great singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett lives on in a new snail species, no doubt the world’s chillest, found in the Florida Keys. The bright yellow creatures, named Cayo margarita as an homage to Buffett’s “Margaritaville,” were described in a study published Monday in the journal PeerJ.
The snail’s neon yellow color first caught the eye of Rüdiger Bieler, a curator of invertebrates at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, while he was scuba-diving, reminding him of a margarita. “In some ways, our team was no stranger to the regional signature drink. And of course, Jimmy Buffett’s music,” Bieler told CNN, admitting to being “a bit of a Parrothead” himself. “So when we came up with a species name, we really wanted to allude to the color of the drink and the fact that it lives in the Florida Keys.”
Not only are the snails evocative of Margaritaville in color, their behavior also closely aligns with the island lifestyle. Per the study, the Cayo margarita are diminutive worm snails. This type of mollusk does not use a shell to protect their body, but rather finds a spot on the coral reef, “hunkers down, cements their shell to the substrate, and never moves again,” according to Bieler. This is a way of life that would make the Mayor of Margaritaville proud.
Along with the Cayo margarita, the researchers also found another species of lime-green snail, Cayo galbinus, in the coral reefs of Belize (“cayo” is a Spanish word meaning small island, which is reminiscent of the way the snails’ bodies appear on the reef.) C. margarita and C. galbinus have the unique distinction of being uniquely suited to climate change, since they prefer to attach themselves to dead coral. As ocean temperatures rise, of course, coral bleaches and dies. Since the late 1970s, healthy coral cover in the Florida Keys has fallen 90 percent, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“What they need is essentially a little free piece of real estate, which is hard to come by in the coral reef, and where they are often going are dead spots on coral heads,” Bieler said. “We’re seeing that these worm snails are making good use of this newly freed up real estate because the coral reefs are so stressed.”
It’s important to note that while these snails are part of the same family as an invasive species named Thylacodes vandyensis, also found in the Florida Keys, Cayo margarita is classified as local and not invasive. Bieler adds that even though these snails live in a highly trafficked reef, “we had to look very closely” to find them.
“This is a rather charismatic little snail that can show us how little we know about the biological diversity around us,” Bieler said. “You have a lot of tourists snorkeling, diving in that area, and still there are undescribed and understudied organisms right under our noses.”
A closeup of Cayo margarita.Photo by R. Bieler.