When you say something like “flamingo tongue snail,” you expect it to be pink or have a pink tongue… right? Well, this gastropod is neither pink in color nor pink-tongued, but that doesn’t stop it being one of the most desired saltwater snails around the world.
It sounds like a riddle, but why don’t we unpack the secrets of the not-as-pink-as-you’d-think flamingo tongue snail?
What Does a Flamingo Tongue Snail Look Like?
The flamingo tongue snail, also known by the scientific name Cyphoma gibbosum, is every bit as visually beautiful as you’d think, just not in the way you would think.
The shell of this marine creature is white, off-white, or ivory-cream in color. It is not flamingo pink.
The bright colors that you see are not on the shell itself, but are a part of the gastropod’s body, known as the mantle. The body of the snail has extended sections which cover the shell, making it look brightly colored and patterned. If you were to catch the snail for a colorful and unique shell, you would be sorely disappointed.
The patterns of this snail can be incredibly varied, with spots, dots, leopard print-like patterns, and more. You’ll find them with black or dark gray along with pink, yellow, orange, and more.
How Big Do Flamingo Tongue Snails Get?
This tropical marine gastropod is a small one, growing to around 0.75 to 1.5 inches in length (1.5 to 3.5 cm). One of the largest specimens found reached 1.7 inches (4.5 cm).
Where Do Flamingo Tongue Snails Live?
Cyphoma gibbosum lives in tropical salt waters and was once common. These days, however, they are tough to find because of the vast numbers that have been removed by scuba divers and aquarium enthusiasts.
Flamingo tongues can still be found across western parts of the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, close to the Lesser Antilles, and around Bermuda. They prefer shallower waters, up to 95 feet (29 meters) in depth, particularly around patches of coral or coral reefs.
What Do Flamingo Tongue Snails Eat?
These patterned snails use an appendage called the radula to feed, moving slowly across soft coral and using the radula to essentially scrape off polyps, which it then digests with chemicals that it secretes.
The corals regrow the polyps, so the environment provides the gastropods with an almost constant source of food.
Flamingo Tongue Snail Facts
I think it’s time for a few interesting facts about this funny-looking gastropod.
1: The lifespan of a flamingo tongue snail is one to three years. They tend to live for two years.
2: Flamingo tongue snails mate for up to four hours before giving birth to eggs, approximately four days later.
3: The colors of the snail are to mimic the colors of venomous or toxic creatures. Bright colors and patterns are typically associated with dangerous animals – such as the blue ringed octopus.
Where to Find a Flamingo Tongue Snail for Sale
This species is believed to be suffering at the hands of over-hunting, so although you might be tempted to run out and buy a few for your at-home tank, you may want to think again.
These snails are notoriously difficult to take care of, because of the need for such specific environments. You must have the exact parameters to suit not just the snail, but also the soft corals that the gastropod feeds on.
There are websites that sell this snail but remember that the shell itself is not the colorful part; it is the body. As soon as the snail dies, the patterned, brightly colored part will decay and only a plain, drab, off-white shell will be left behind.