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Mollusk Diversity

6 April, 2016 - 17:26

This phylum is comprised of seven classes: Aplacophora, Monoplacophora, Polyplacophora, Bivalvia, Gastropoda, Cephalopoda, and Scaphopoda.

Class Aplacophora (“bearing no plates”) includes worm-like animals living mostly on deep ocean bottoms. These animals lack a shell but have aragonite spicules on their skin. Members of class Monoplacophora (“bearing one plate”) have a single, cap-like shell enclosing the body. The monoplacophorans were believed extinct and only known as fossils until the discovery of Neopilina galatheae in 1952. Today, scientists have identified nearly two dozen living species.

Animals in the class Polyplacophora (“bearing many plates”) are commonly known as “chitons” and bear an armor-like, eight-plated shell (Figure 15.25). These animals have a broad, ventral foot that is adapted for attachment to rocks and a mantle that extends beyond the shell in the form of a girdle. They breathe with ctenidia(gills) present ventrally. These animals have a radula modified for scraping. A single pair of nephridia for excretion is present.

Figure 15.25 This chiton from the class Polyplacophora has the eight-plated shell indicative of its class. (credit: Jerry Kirkhart) 

Class Bivalvia (“two shells”) includes clams, oysters, mussels, scallops, and geoducks. They are found in marine and freshwater habitats. As the name suggests, bivalves are enclosed in a pair of shells (or valves) that are hinged at the dorsal side. The body is flattened on the sides. They feed by filtering particles from water and a radula is absent. They exchange gases using a pair of ctenidia, and excretion and osmoregulation are carried out by a pair of nephridia. In some species, the posterior edges of the mantle may fuse to form two siphons that inhale and exhale water. Some bivalves like oysters and mussels have the unique ability to secrete and deposit a calcareous nacre or “mother of pearl” around foreign particles that enter the mantle cavity. This property is commercially exploited to produce pearls.


Watch animations of clams ( and mussels ( feeding to understand more about bivalves.

Gastropods (“stomach foot”) include well-known mollusks like snails, slugs, conchs, sea hares, and sea butterflies. Gastropods include shell-bearing species as well as species with a reduced shell. These animals are asymmetrical and usually present a coiled shell (Figure 15.26).

Figure 15.26 (a) Like many gastropods, this snail has a stomach foot and a coiled shell. (b) This slug, which is also a gastropod, lacks a shell. 

The visceral mass in the shelled species is characteristically twisted and the foot is modified for crawling. Most gastropods bear a head with tentacles that support eyes. A complex radula is used to scrape food particles from the substrate. The mantle cavity encloses the ctenidia as well as a pair of nephridia.

The class Cephalopoda (“head foot” animals) includes octopuses, squids, cuttlefish, and nautilus. Cephalopods include shelled and reduced-shell groups. They display vivid coloration, typically seen in squids and octopuses, which is used for camouflage. The ability of some octopuses to rapidly adjust their colors to mimic a background pattern or to startle a predator is one of the more awe-inspiring feats of these animals. All animals in this class are predators and have beak-like jaws. All cephalopods have a well-developed nervous system, complex eyes, and a closed circulatory system. The foot is lobed and developed into tentacles and a funnel, which is used for locomotion. Suckers are present on the tentacles in octopuses and squid. Ctenidia are enclosed in a large mantle cavity and are serviced by large blood vessels, each with its own heart.

Cephalopods (Figure 15.27) are able to move quickly via jet propulsion by contracting the mantle cavity to forcefully eject a stream of water. Cephalopods have separate sexes, and the females of some species care for the eggs for an extended period of time. Although the shell is much reduced and internal in squid and cuttlefish, and absent altogether in octopus, nautilus live inside a spiral, multi-chambered shell that is filled with gas or water to regulate buoyancy.

Figure 15.27 The (a) nautilus, (b) giant cuttlefish, (c) reef squid, and (d) blue-ring octopus are all members of the class Cephalopoda. 

Members of the class Scaphopoda (“boat feet”) are known colloquially as “tusk shells” or “tooth shells.” Tooth shells are open at both ends and usually lie buried in sand with the front opening exposed to water and the reduced head end projecting from the back of the shell. Tooth shells have a radula and a foot modified into tentacles, each with a bulbous end that catches and manipulates prey (Figure 15.28).

Figure 15.28 Antalis vulgaris shows the classic Dentaliidae shape that gives these animals their common name of “tusk shell.” (credit: Georges Jansoone)