Name: Flamingo tongue snail (Cyphoma gibbosum)
Size: 25–35 mm (0.98–1.38 in)
Feature: Beautiful shell with bright orange-yellow in color with black markings
Distribution: Tropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean, common in the Caribbean Ocean
Conservation Status: Not Evaluated (NE)
Flamingo tongue, unlike the name suggested, has nothing to do with flamingo nor tongue. It is in fact a marine gastropod mollusk. In other words, it is a soft slimy animal carrying its own house, but living in the ocean. Just like a scuba diving snail.
With exuberant imagination, its bright pink color shell and the tiny size of the underwater snail does remind us a little bit of the tongue of a flamingo. We guess this is how it gets its name.
While diving here in the Mexico, we have a saying that if you find one flamingo tongue in a dive, you will get lucky for the rest of the dive; if you find three flamingo tongues in a dive, you will get lucky for the rest of the dive trip. Therefore, we always try hard to find these little guys underwater.
Besides the bright pink beautify look, there are some fun facts of this little snail.
Let’s take a closer look.
Flamingo tongue lives in shallow water. The deepest flamingo tongue we found underwater is only about 29m / 95ft. Adult flamingo tongue feed on corals. They scrape the polyps off the coral with its tiny teeth, leaving a trail on the coral. Nonetheless, they do not eat much. In addition, the population of flamingo tongue is controlled by their predators. As a result, they do not pose a lethal threat to coral.
We can easily see adult flamingo tongue on top of a coral. However, juveniles are more difficult to be found due to a fact that they tend to hide on the underside of a coral to avoid predators.
2. The amazing mantle
The mantle is an important part of flamingo tongue. It’s a thin tissue covering the shell. The bright pink color and the orange patterns are indeed the mantle of the flamingo tongue. While feeding on the coral, they also absorb toxic chemicals present in corals to produce toxic substances that are deposited in its mantle.
The colorful mantle serves as a warning for their predators. In addition, it is toxic and distasteful. Therefore, the mantle is a really important defense mechanism of flamingo tongue.
3. A Sad conservation status
Flamingo tongue is still common and not listed in the IUCN Red List. However, it is recently getting more and more difficult to find one underwater. Like most aquatic animals, human became their top one enemy.
Because they live in shallow water, it is really easy for divers and snorkelers to collect them for the spectacular looking shell. However, the beautiful pattern is actually on the living mantle. As a result, it will soon fade away once the flamingo tongue dies after taken away from its natural habitat.
So divers, now it’s a good time to share this article with your friends and family. Let them know that it is a way better idea to leave the flamingo tongue underwater so we can all find them and get lucky in our dives.