Category: Molluscs: other than Cephalopods
[Skip to list of Topics for this Category →]
Molluscs comprise a phylum of invertebrates that inhabit mainly marine but also freshwater and terrestrial environments. In spite of displaying striking diversity in size and form, molluscs as a rule all possess some form of chitin-based shell (often mineralised with calcium carbonate), the shell being secreted by a soft mantle with a respiratory cavity within and beneath this a muscular 'foot' for locomotion. The fossil record of molluscs extends back to the Cambrian, and if the Ediacaran animal Kimberella is a mollusc perhaps as far back as about 550Ma. Living molluscs are generally accommodated in one of seven classes. The most diverse mollusc class is the Gastropoda (e.g. snail, slugs, limpets and nudibranchs), with Bivalvia (e.g. mussels, oysters, scallops) and Cephalopoda (octopuses, squid, cuttlefish and Nautilus) being the other two major classes. Less well known are the tusk shells (Scaphopoda), chitons (Polyplacophora), spicule worms (Aplacophora) and deep-sea "limpets" termed Monoplacophora. Whilst cephalopods are exemplars of evolutionary convergence because of their many striking similarities to the vertebrates, gastropods, bivalves and the other remaining molluscs offer the biologist many compelling examples of convergence, ranging from shell form to sexual behaviour. Just a few of these are outlined below...
Molluscs can often be defined by their shell geometry (e.g. spiral in snails, planispiral in cephalopods, two valves in bivalves), and yet when discussing shell shape variation in terms of 'skeleton space' we find the possibilities are not infinite, and many striking examples of convergence are known. For example, one group of snails has independently evolved bivalved shells and several groups of molluscs (as well as the cheilostome bryozoan Lunularia patelliformis) have evolved limpet-like form.
Some molluscs possess eyes that are highly convergent. The giant clam Tridaca has pin-hole eyes along its mantle margin that are similar in form to those of Nautilus. Arca bivalves also have eyes along their mantle margin, but this time they are compound eyes, similar to those of the arthropods. Camera eyes are notable in heteropods, strombids (conches), littorinids, pulmonates and the snail Viviparus, all resembling the camera eyes of many cephalopods and vertebrates.
In terms of reproduction, several fresh-water snails, including pachylids and Viviparus, have independently evolved viviparity (live birth), and brooding and parental care have both evolved independently within the snails, converging with many other invertebrate and vertebrate groups. Yet another spectacular example of convergence is the evolution of love darts, not only within the snails and slugs, but more impressively in the earthworms.
One of the most remarkable convergences recognized among non-cephalopod molluscs is 'agriculture', whereby limpets deliberately encourage (or cultivate) algal farms, and littorinid snails cultivate a parasitic fungus through a mutualistic association. Fungal farming is also known in insects such as the attine ants, termites and ambrosia beetles.