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August 29, 2013 | By:  Jessica Carilli
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Meet the Pteropod

This week, Saltwater Science has a special feature for you: an interview with an actual* marine animal, called a pteropod.

JC: So, pteropod. Kind of a weird name, no?

Pteropod: We're also called "sea butterflies" if you prefer. But pteropod translates to "wing-foot", which is also pretty cool. See how my snail-foot has evolved into long and thin projections, like wings, which I can use to swim around?

JC: Oh, so you're basically a swimming snail?

Pteropod: Yup. We come in lots of different shapes, just like other kinds of snails. We also have relatives that are sometimes called "sea angels" (or Gymnosomata if you prefer), which are effectively swimming slugs without shells.

JC: You pteropods seem to be in the news a lot lately. Besides being kinda neat to look at, why are you suddenly so important?

Pteropod: Well, we're kind of a big deal, as you can tell. Lots of things like to eat us; so we support the larger animals that you humans seem to care about, like fish and sharks and whales. But because of ocean acidification, our shells are starting to dissolve.

JC: Can you tell me a little about ocean acidification? Why is it happening?

Pteropod: Yes, I've become quite the expert. Ever since you humans started burning fossil fuels, and pumping more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, some of that extra CO2 began to dissolve in the ocean. When you mix CO2 and H2O, carbonic acid forms, which drops the pH and makes the ocean more corrosive for things like me that have calcium carbonate shells. Thanks, guys.

JC: Bummer. Sorry about that. Well, thanks for talking to Saltwater Science about your plight.


Bednaršek, N. et al. Extensive Dissolution of Live Pteropods in the Southern Ocean Nature Geoscience 5, 881-885 (2012).

*not really

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