Have you ever seen one of these little critters when scuba diving in Grand Cayman and wandered what it is? Well, it’s a type of Marine Snail called a ‘Flamingo tongue’.
Flamingo tongues are predators specialising in soft corals and are almost always found on their preferred species of prey, sea whips and more commonly sea fans. You’ll only be able to find them in warm tropical waters.
Flamingo tongues specialise in consuming the toxic flesh of these soft corals and are smart enough to only consume segments at a time, switching to different “host corals” periodically allowing the corals to regenerate and therefore replenish their food source.
The soft tissues of coral contain toxic chemicals which Flamingo Tongues harness and incorporate into their own soft tissues to provide a chemical defence against predators. Hence the Flamingo Tongues bright colours, which surprisingly decorate their mantle (live tissue) and not their shell. Flamingo Tongues have the ability to cover their whole shell by wrapping their mantle around it, releasing a chemical defence if touched and to warn away predators with its bright colours.
Conservation of the Flamingo Tongue
The Conservation status of the Flamingo Tongue is unknown, but there are often collected by people who presume the shells are colourful. These little guys are plentiful in Grand Cayman and can be spotted at almost every dive site.