As if Mother Nature was short of wonders, a new study shows us how animals are able to swap genetical material more efficient. Slipper limpets can change sex through touch, thus concludes a new marine study which focuses on the reproductive behavior of sea slugs.
Unlike other creatures, the slipper limpets, also known as Crepidula marginalis, are born with male genitalia, although this is not a permanent situation. According to the new study performed by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, for a slipper limpet, being male or female, is just a question of priority.
Rachel Colin, co-author of the study said that although the little sea slugs start off as males if the situation dictates, they can turn into females by simply touching another slipper limpet. As she pointed out, this kind of development in the snail’s life is quite natural, because the male slipper limpet requires more energy in order to produce sperm cells.
Moreover, the transition from male to female cannot be done until the slipper limpet reaches a certain age. Other observations performed on different slipper limpets have determined that the male snail is smaller in size than the female.
The Crepidula marginalis, as a species, can be considered quite social. The sea slugs can be found traveling in large numbers. But, in rare cases, the scientists have seen that the snails also like to travel in groups of three.
There would be a female snail, accompanied by two smaller male slipper limpets. And if things weren’t strange enough, it would seem that the two male snails have the habit of riding on the top of the female’s shell.
In terms of reproduction, further observations have determined that male slipper limpets have very large reproductive organs, which start from the base of their head and are able to reach around the female’s body.
A lab experiment determined that slipper limpets can change sex through touch. Two containers have been set up in order to see how this happens. In one of the container, two slipper limpets were placed and were allowed to touch each other. In the second container, the researchers also placed a couple of slipper limpets, only this time they were careful to set up a barrier between them.
The barrier was thin enough to let cue-infused water to pass between the snails but durable enough as to not let the snails make physical contact.
In the first container, the first snail, after making physical contact with the other, has become manifesting symptoms associated with a sex change. The same thing happened in the other container, only that, in the latter case, the procedure would be much slower.