- José H. Leal
Ruby, the Whale, and the Bone-eating Snails
Some mollusks can be highly specialized in their feeding habits. Take, for instance, Rubyspira osteovora Johnson et al., 2010 (photo), a deep-sea gastropod that is found only on or around the skeletons of dead whales. In 2010, Shannon B. Johnson of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and her collaborators first named the genus Rubyspira after the nickname of the whale skeleton on which the species was first retrieved, Ruby, combined with spira, Greek and Latin for coil or spiral. The species name ending, osteovora, is a combination of the Greek osteon, bone, and Latin vorator, an eater. The species is known to feed exclusively on whale bones, and will settle on decomposing carcasses (“whale falls”) after the bulk of the mammals’ tissues have been consumed by other deep-sea scavengers, including six-gilled sharks in the genus Hexabranchus. The photo was grabbed from a Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) video, and shows an aggregation of R. osteovora and other invertebrates around whale bones at the Ruby fall. The fall is at around 2,900 m (9,514 ft) in the Monterey Submarine Canyon, off California. The photo is used with permission from MBARI.