Banded Tulips

Banded tulips are not spring flowers. They are marine snails! Their smooth shells, that may grow to as much as four inches long, are easy to identify. They are marbleized white and brown, with 4-8 distinct brown lines banding the shells; they are home to black snails. The shells are the snails’ protection; when threatened they pull their soft body into the shell. They even have a horny plate on their foot that acts as a door. This foot is also how they move around on the seafloor (when the “door” is open and the coast is clear!).

Photo Credit: NURC/UNCW and NOAA/FGBNMS.

And beautiful though they may be, these snails are ruthless carnivores – like the wolf in sheep’s clothing of the marine world. They rest in grass flats or on the sandy seafloor, waiting for their next victim. These predator snails will eat smaller bivalves, tube worms, carrion, and other snails. To do this, a snail uses its radula (another new word!). This is akin to a toothed tongue that can bore a hole through the shell of prey. Then the snail inserts its radula into the hole to scrape off the soft contents inside the prey shell and draw the food to its mouth. Kind of like a big straw – slurp!

Aside from the way they get their meals, banded tulips are like other snails. They are gastropods (snails and slugs) in the family of mollusks, that have a shell and a single muscular foot. The banded tulips have two tentacles with and eye at the base. And of course, banded tulips have that ever-useful radula!