The Fantastic Journey of the Snail That Can Survive Being Pooped Out By a BirdS

Science! What would we do without you? Certainly we would never know the marvelous story of Tornatellides boeningi, the snail that can survive being eaten, digested, and pooped out by a bird.

Japanese white-eye birds, native to the island of Hahajima, Japan, love to eat T. boeningi snails. ("Four stars!" peeps the little Japanese white-eye Sam Sifton.) Scientists had long assumed (or, really, not given much thought to the whole concept) that all those snails died, due to being eaten by a bird.

But no! In a controlled laboratory experiment, Japanese biologists found that some 15 percent of the snails survived their adventure through the poop-parts of the white-eye. (One even gave birth to little snail babies right after being pooped!) Not only is this a neat party trick, but it actually seems to be the reason the snails have migrated so far across the island:

"Biogeography of wingless terrestrial invertebrates, in particular snails, is often faced with mysterious long distance dispersal patterns that can only be explained by hand waving arguments involving birds' feet or guts or cyclones," said [researcher Shinichiro] Wada.

"This is the first study showing that birds can indeed transport a substantial [number of] micro land snails in their gut alive."

The reason the snails survive seems to be their size, which, at about 2.5mm (less than a tenth of an inch), is too small for the birds' beaks—or digestive systems—to cause harm. The Japanese white-eye is usually around four inches long, so to bring this closer to home, you can figure that most humans could survive the digestive system of a bird about 244 feet long. (Any shorter and you'd probably die!) Though, since we have planes to take us places, we'll probably never need to develop enormous bird technology.

[BBC via Reddit, images via University of Hawaii]