Sinistral snail shells in the sea: developmental causes and consequences



Jonathan R. Hendricks [], Department of Geology, The University of Kansas, Lindley Hall, 1475 Jayhawk Blvd., Rm. 120, Lawrence, KS 66045, USA; manuscript received on 24/08/07; manuscript accepted on 25/01/08.


The paucity of sinistral (left-coiling) relative to dextral (right-coiling) species of gastropods in the marine realm is an enigma. In Conus, one of the most diverse marine animal genera, sinistral shell coiling has evolved as a species-wide character only once. Fossils of this species, Conus adversarius, are found in Upper Pliocene and lowermost Pleistocene deposits in the southeastern USA. Conus adversarius had nonplanktonic larval development; this may have been a critical factor for the early establishment of the species, as well as sinistral marine species in other clades. Notably, most specimens of aberrantly sinistral modern Conus are derived from typically dextral species that have nonplanktonic development. If C. adversarius was reproductively isolated from dextral conspecifics, then this species may provide an example of nearly instantaneous sympatric speciation in the fossil record. Furthermore, the common and widespread – while geologically short-lived – fossil shells of C. adversarius show large amounts of variability in form and this variation may be related, at least in part, to a pleiotropic effect associated with the reversed coiling direction of this species.