Expert Interview: Andrew Thaler's 13 Thoughts about Ally (Alviniconcha) and Iffy (Ifremeria)

Hi Hagfish Day Fans, 

     We're excited to have deep-sea ecologist, *Andrew David Thaler,  join us to share his thoughts on why these two very cool and rare snails should be part of Hagfish Day's hall of fame.  Let's see....one feels like velcro, they are BFFs...and they eat in a very weird way...yep, they are perfect Hagfish Day stars!

      Jake, the SeaDog

  PS. If you think the Hairy Vent Snail  is the true beauty of Hagfish Day, vote for it in our Ugly-Beauty contest!

 

1.  We are so excited to introduce the....the Hairy vent snail (Alviniconcha sp)  and the...Ifremeria...does it have a common name?

Usually biologists just call them by their scientific names, but sometimes we refer to Ifremeria as the black snail and Alviniconcha as the hairy vent snail. Their scientific names aren't really Latin either. The two snails were named after two of the most famous deep diving submarines. Alviniconcha was named for Alvin (literally translates as Alvin Snail), the USA's deepest diving research submarine, and Ifremeria was named after the IFREMER Nautile, the French's research sub (Ifremeria's full name is Ifremeria nautilei). 

2. I see that you have cartoon characters named Iffy and Ally....are they by chance deep-sea BFFs?

They are deep-sea BFF's in the comics and in real life. Both Ifremeria and Alviniconcha hang out near the outflow of hydrothermal vents. Alviniconcha likes it a little warmer than Ifremeria, so you find them in a bulls eye pattern, with Alviniconcha in the center and Ifremeria surrounding them.
 

3. Are they found all over the world or only near deep-sea vents in the Pacific? Do they live "in the vent" or "next to the vent" (my 11 year old asked that one)

Ifremeria is only found at hydrothermal vents in three places in the western Pacific, Manus Basin, which is near Papua New Guinea, and Lau and Fiji Basins, which are in the middle of the Pacific. Alviniconcha has a slightly bigger range. It lives everywhere Ifremeria does, but can also be found near Japan and at one place in the Indian Ocean. 

4. How hot is the water where they live?

The water coming out of the vents can be up to 300 degrees C, but the snails don't live right at the hottest point, so it's about 21 degrees C where Alviniconcha is, and 18 degrees C where Ifremeria is. The water cools down really fast after it comes out of the vent, so they could be a couple of centimeters away from the 300 degree water and not get burned. 

5. We need the bald truth about the hairy vent snail...is it really covered in hair?  Are the spines a fashion statement or do they have a purpose? 

Alviniconcha really is covered in hair, although it's tough like bristles, not soft. We're not sure exactly what function the hairs have, but one hypothesis is that they keep other animals, like barnacles and limpets, from settling on their shells. Ifremeria don't have hair, and they tend to be covered in other critters. And yes, there are some bald Alviniconcha. Sometimes they get pushed too close to the hot water and their hairs get burned off!

6. If I touched this snail’s shell, would the spines be soft like velvet, crush easily, and/or are the hard, sort of like a sea urchin’s spines (though a totally different animal, of course)?

It actually feels like the sticky side of a Velcro strip. The hairs even curve inward like the Velcro hooks.   

7.  Does these deep-sea snails have an operculum (kind of like a front door for those who haven’t picked up a sea snail in a while)?

Yup, they both have fairly standard opercula.

 

8. What do they eat? What eats them?

Both Ifremeria and Alviniconcha have endosymbionts, bacteria that live inside their gills that extract energy directly from the vents and turn it into food for the snails, through a process called chemosynthesis. These snails don't really eat anything, the food is produced for them inside their bodies, like having a little farm in your stomach. Because of this, Alviniconcha and Ifremeria are some of the few animals that don't need sunlight to survive.

9. I saw a photo of hairy vent snails...there were a ton of them. Is that normal?

 Yes, they appear in very large aggregations. 
 

10. Why are these snails important to their environment?

 Both snails are foundation species, they literally create habitat for other organisms to live on. Because there's no sunlight down there, there are no plants, so the snails are also the base of the food chain. Crabs, shrimp, fish, and even other snails eat them.

11. What’s the scoop with Ifremeria, I can’t find any information on it.

 Ifremeria tends to get overshadowed by Alviniconcha. Even with molluscs people like the cute and fuzzy ones better. Because Ifremeria doesn't have hairs and lives further from the hot water, more critters grow on their shells, and there tends to be much more of them at any one vent. They also have a brood pouch for baby Ifremeria, so unlike most snails, they don't lay eggs but give birth to free-swimming larvae. 

12. Can people, okay deep-sea scientists, observe them in person on a deep-sea sub or do they live too deep?

 They live very deep, so you need a robot or submarine to see them in their natural habitat, but they are very tough and can survive at the surface for several days, so if you bring one up, you can watch it crawl around.

13. Do either do anything awesomely cool like a hagfish, tie themselves in knots or ooze slime or....?

Ifremeria has a very cool larvae, called a Waren's Larvae. It was actually just observed and is the first new type of mollusc larvae discovered in more than 100 years. This lets it swim across huge distances to find new vents. 


Thank you Andrew for your time, information and sense of humor!

*More about Andrew: He is a candidate for Ph.D. at the Duke University Marine Lab. He studies population structure and connectivity of deep-sea hydrothermal vent endemic invertebrates in the Western Pacific.  His interest is in how marine populations interact with each other at local and global scales. His primary focus is in the connectivity of deep-sea hydrothermal vent ecosystems and understanding how patterns of connectivity or isolation effect the ability of vent organisms to re-colonize vents after catastrophic disturbance. Phew! In other words, he has a very cool career studying creatures that live near deep-sea vents....specifically in the Western Pacific.

He also writes for the popular marine science and conservation blog Southern Fried Science and posts ocean poetry and creative writing at Hardtack and Sardines.

Photo Credits:

Photographs of these amazing snails taken in the deep provided by Nautlius Minerals Niugini Ltd. Thank you.

Also, a big thank you to  Deep Sea News for the use of their close-up photos of the Alviniconcha. (photo credit: Linda Zelnio)

Thank you Andrew!  You've helped us learn more about the Ally and Iffy....and helped us celebrate Hagfish Day!


Learn more by visiting these sites:

Meet David Thaler's (Southern Fried Science) Iffy and Ally and their home: And now for something completely different – Introducing Deep Fried Sea and Deep Fried Sea: Where are we?

Fun cards to make your own game:  Deep Fried Sea: Western Pacific Set #1, D. Thaler, Southern Fried Science

Information: From The Desk of Zelnio: Alviniconcha hessleri, (Deep Sea News) and 27 Best Deep Sea Species #14..., (Deep Sea News)

Photograph: Here's another cool photo of the Hairy Vent Snail from the Census of Marine life

 

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