Thought your pet snail was cool? Well, unless yours has developed eyes that shoot lasers or the ability to speak, then it’s probably not as cool as the aptly named Scaly-Foot Snail, which has its very own metal armour.
These snails have evolved shells made of iron, as well as a foot covered with iron plates. This appears to be down to bacteria which is helping facilitate the production of the iron sulfides that make up the shell and plates. It is thought that no other animal on Earth can utilize iron this way.
However, the shells aren’t totally rigid like a standard snail’s. They are flexible but strong, sort of like chain-mail. This is down to the three layers that make up the shell: The iron-plated top layer, the calcified bottom layer and a thick organic layer in between. The iron provides protection from predators, while the fleshy part in the middle acts as a shock-absorber.
The scales on the foot serve a similar purpose – to protect them from predators, such as other snails who hunt by firing harpoons into the flesh of fish and snails and injecting a venom. It’s thought that the iron plating of the scaly-foot snail deflects these missiles, like a knight’s armour deflecting a lance.