The flamingo tongue is a small marine snail that lives on coral reefs in the western Atlantic Ocean. This species is very colorful, with bright pink or orange coloration and black spots. Interestingly, these colors are not associated with the shell, which is somewhat drab. Instead, the color comes from the marine snail's soft tissue, which is almost always wrapped around the entire outside of the shell.
Flamingo tongues are predators that specialize on eating soft corals. They are almost exclusively found on their preferred prey species – typically sea fans, whip corals, and other soft corals. As they slowly crawl along the bodies of their prey, they eat away the soft tissue, leaving only the coral’s skeleton behind. Like some sea slugs and other reef organisms, flamingo tongues incorporate chemicals from their prey into their soft tissue to provide a chemical defense against predation. The flamingo tongue’s bright colors serve as a warning of its poison to potential predators – a process known as aposometism. The flamingo tongue reproduces through internal fertilization, and the female lays her sticky eggs on the soft corals where she lives.
The conservation status of the flamingo tongue is unknown, but they are often collected by people, who mistakenly think that the shells are colorful. Scientists believe that their numbers are diminished in some areas, as a result of this practice.
1. The flamingo tongue is a reef-dwelling species and can be found in the waters surrounding southern Florida, the Caribbean Islands, and the northern coast of South America.1
2. The flamingo tongue grows to between 2 and 3 cm in size.
3. The flamingo tongue uses its foot, or radula, to secrete chemicals that dissolve coral into digestible food.
4. The flamingo tongue feeds on toxic corals and can store those toxins in its tissue to use as a defense mechanism of its own.1
5. The flamingo tongue has aposematic coloration, meaning its bright colors are meant to ward off potential predators.
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.