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Deep in the Indian Ocean, near extremely hot hydrothermal vents, where scalding hot water erupts in tall, blacky columns, lives an extraordinary species of snail called chrysomallon squamiferum, commonly known as scaly-foot gastropod. The harsh environment has caused the snail to develop a unique exoskeleton. Its outer shell is covered with a layer of iron, and its soft fleshy foot that protrudes from the under the shell is protected by hard mineralized scales made of iron sulphides. Scaly-foot gastropod is the only animal on Earth known to utilize iron in this way.

Scaly-foot gastropod was first discovered in 1999 at a depth of over two kilometers in central Indian Ocean, deep within hydrothermal vent fields. The water in these vents are high in sulfides and metals, which the snails have incorporated into their shells. The entire animal is covered in iron compound, mainly pyrite, also known as “Fool’s gold” and greigite. As greigite is magnetic, the animal actually sticks to magnets.

The three known populations of Chrysomallon squamiferum: Kairei, Longqi, Solitaire (left to right). Photo credit

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