Giant snail hunts crown-of-thorns starfish

With its prickly array of spines, the coral-destroying crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) may turn off most predators – but not this sea snail.

The Pacific triton (Charonia tritonis) – a massive snail that can grow a shell up to half a metre long – lives in coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific. It’s a natural predator to the crown-of-thorns starfish – a species ravaging parts of the Great Barrier Reef – but unfortunately the snails are quite rare.

Mike Hall and his team at the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville, Queensland are investigating the chemosensory qualities of the Pacific triton to find ways to control the starfish.

Tritons and starfish sniff chemicals in the water around them, like we smell scents in the air. It’s how the tritons are able to track and hunt their prey – and how the starfish knows there’s danger lurking.

Hall says simply adding water a triton’s been sitting in to a tank of crown-of-thorns starfish is enough to make the starfish move away.

Harnessing the power of the triton’s chemical emissions could be used to drive the crown-of-thorns from areas of the reef and reduce their reproduction.

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