Violet sea snails, also known as bubble raft snails, are fascinating marine gastropod mollusks found in tropical and subtropical waters. The scientific name of this species of holoplanktonic snail is Janthina janthina.

While these mesmerizingly beautiful snails are tropical species, you shouldn’t be shocked if you find them in many other places. According to a report by BBC, about 60 of these unique snails were recently spotted in UK waters, confirming that they could be distributed across the world’s oceans.

Besides, these small, marine gastropod mollusks are unique in every way. For example, their life begins as free-swimming larvae, and adults are typically between 3 and 4 cm. In this article, we’ll delve into the details of the violet sea snail, including their appearance, diet, habitat, reproduction, and threats to their survival. We’ll also provide a list of interesting facts about this species. So, if you need to learn more about these violet snails, feel free to read on.

Violet sea snails pictured in the UK
Violet sea snails pictured in the UK

Credit: Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust


Appearance

The violet sea snail is a small snail with a shell that typically grows to be about the size of a dime. The shell is conical in shape and has a dark, violet-purple color. What’s more, the snail has a soft, fleshy body that is also violet in color and can grow up to 4 cm.

The mantle and mucus cover the violet sea snail's body
The mantle and mucus cover the violet sea snail’s body

A thin, transparent film called a mantle also covers the snail’s body. This film helps to protect the body and keep it moist at all times. If that’s not enough, remember that the snail also has a pair of tentacles on its head, which it uses to sense its surroundings and locate food.

Diet

How does the violet sea snail feed? It uses a radula, a rasping tongue-like organ, to scrape algae and other materials off of rocks and other surfaces.

This snail feeds on algae and other plant matter, by-the-wind Sailors (Velella velella), bluebottles (Physalia physalis), and more.

Habitat

The violet sea snail is found in tropical and subtropical waters, including the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. If you have been into these areas, you might have seen the sea animals in shallow waters near the surface. However, researchers say you can also find them at deeper depths.

In most cases, you’ll find the violet snail in areas with strong currents, which help to transport their shells and eggs.

Reproduction

Regarding production, it’s excellent to note that violet sea snails are protandric hermaphrodites. In simple terms, they are born male and develop female reproductive organs over time. They are capable of internal fertilization, but the males lack a well-developed penis. Thus, they release sperm into cases that drift to females, allowing fertilization to occur inside the females.

Once the eggs hatch, the female snail broods their free-swimming larvae and releases them directly into the sea to fend for themselves once they mature.

The violet sea snail creates mucus bubbles it uses to float
The violet sea snail creates mucus bubbles it uses to float

Credit: Samaya Reid/Scilly Rockpool Safaris

The young adults begin to secrete a raft of mucus bubbles immediately, which helps them to keep floating in the sea.

Threats

This sea snail faces a few threats to its survival. One threat is overfishing, as the snail’s shells are often collected and used for decorative purposes. The snail is also threatened by ocean acidification, habitat destruction, and the effects of climate change.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) doesn’t consider this species threatened. So, it is not currently at risk of extinction.

Facts About the Violet Sea Snail

  • The violet sea snail is a small snail with a shell that typically grows to be about the size of a dime.
  • The snail has a dark, violet-purple shell and a soft, fleshy body that is also violet in color.
  • The snail is found in the tropical and subtropical waters of the world’s oceans.
  • The snails are protandric hermaphrodites, capable of internal fertilization after the male releases sperm into cases that drift to the females.
  • The snail lays its eggs in long, thin strands attached to floating objects.
  • Overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change threaten the violet sea snail.

The violet snail is a small but attractive species often found in the tropical and subtropical waters of the world’s oceans. Other than their unique appearance, which is a dark, violet-purple shell and a soft, fleshy body that is also violet in color, they play an essential role in the ocean ecosystem, as we’ve seen. If you’ve read up here, you understand the biology and ecology of the violet sea snail, and you most likely know what makes this species unique and why we should save our beaches and the entire marine ecosystem.

FAQs

Are violet sea snails poisonous?

The violet sea snail is not poisonous to humans or other animals and doesn’t bite or produce any toxins or venom. So, there is no known danger associated with handling or consuming the violet sea snail. However, you should treat all animals with respect and handle them with care. This way, you can minimize the chances of consuming or relating with a dangerous species of snails.

Are violet sea snails rare?

It is difficult to determine the snail’s overall population size, as it is found in a wide range of habitats and is not considered a common or abundant species. However, you can find them floating in shallow waters in large groups and stranded on beaches when strong winds blow them ashore.
The snail is not listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list.

Are violet sea snails blind?

Violet sea snails are not blind. They have a pair of tentacles on their head that sense their surroundings and locate food. The tentacles are sensitive to touch, smell, and taste, and the snail uses them to navigate its environment and find food.
Moreover, the violet sea snail also has a simple eye at the base of each tentacle to detect light and darkness.

How do violet sea snails float?

The violet sea snail floats due to the unique structure of its shell, which is conical and has a thin, papery outer layer coated in a film of air. At the same time, the snail also has a soft, fleshy body covered in a light, transparent film that helps keep the snail’s body moist and traps a layer of air around it. All these help to make the snail more buoyant.