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Keywords:

  • Morphology;
  • spiral growth;
  • coiled shells;
  • gastropods;
  • Planorbidae

Extensive experimentation has been performed on the planorbid Planorbarius metidjensis in order to determine which mechanism allows the snail to coil its shell regularly. Individuals of this species, like all Planorbidae, are permanently active and secrete their shells while crawling on the substrate. Experiments consisted of attaching weights to either side of the shell (which is carried almost vertically) in an umbilical position; these weights cause the shell to fall towards the substrate on the loaded side. It can be demonstrated, qualitatively and quantitatively, that during further growth the shell tube deviated initially (i.e. within the first half whorl after loading) towards the loaded side. In a later stage, when the animal is able to re-balance the shell-load complex by muscular activity, the shell tube gradually deviates away from the loaded side. This behaviour is to be expected if, after loading, secretion of the shell continued with the aperture parallel to the substrate and forming a constant angle with the direction of growth. The main implication is that in normal conditions the living posture largely controls the correct coiling of the shell. Minor experiments made with another planorbid species, Gyraulus laevis, confirm these conclusions. The growth pattern of planorbids requires that the snail has constant information on the orientation of the shell with respect to the substrate. This is permitted by the particular physiological ecology of this group, members of which, unlike terrestrial gastropods, are permanently active.