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Snails that are held close to each other may undergo sex change with just a simple touch, as discovered in a new study. Big male snails change more rapidly than smaller ones and the change is triggered by contact rather than complex chemical releases.

Sex change is not something very unusual for some animals. In fact, many species undergo sex change at some point in their lives, particularly after reaching a certain degree of maturity or size. Snails called slipper limpets are born male, but they turn into females later in life.

Sex change is believed to be triggered by visual, behavioral, and chemical factors. With the poor vision and sedentary nature of slipper limpets, experts think that sex change depends on waterborne chemical cues, which are previously recognized to affect other behavioral features.

In the study, however, the researchers discovered that the species are like fish because they react more to behavioral contact and chemical factors, rather than waterborne triggers.

"I was blown away by this result," said co-author Rachel Collin from Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). She added that she highly anticipated snails to respond to waterborne signals.

To be able to come up with the findings, the authors used two male snails with different sizes. The samples were placed in cups containing seawater. Some of the cups are conducive for free contact while the others contain a mesh division that keeps the pairs apart.

The results of the experiment show that the bigger snails with direct contacts with their partners developed more rapidly and transformed into females sooner than those that were separated by a physical barrier. Meanwhile, the smaller snails with direct contact exhibited more delayed sex change than those with a mesh separation.

Read More: Techtimes

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