Snail 99 million years old stunningly preserved in amber

A snail trapped in time with its squishy parts amazingly intact offers a surprising peek into ancient history.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser

This snail has stayed in this position for a very, very long time.

Associate Professor Lida Xing, China University of Geosciences, Beijing.

Even 100 million years ago, snails slimed their way across the Earth. 

An international team is investigating a remarkable juvenile snail trapped in amber. They estimate the creature to be about 99 million years old. 

The shell is easy to see, but what's truly remarkable are the preserved soft tissues, including the head, tentacle and eye spot. 

"It is absolutely extraordinary for the fossil record to produce such stunning preservation, which is exceedingly rare for any fossil of this age, especially snails and many other animals," said paleontologist Jeffrey Stilwell with Monash University in Australia.

The university calls the discovery "the first and oldest preserved soft tissue of a snail in the fossil record from the mid-Cretaceous of Myanmar." The Cretaceous period is known for its iconic dinosaurs, including Tyrannosaurus rex.

The researchers described their findings in a paper for the journal Cretaceous Research.The scientists say the snail may be related to modern and fossil snails in the Cyclophoroidea family.

Stilwell says most snails would retract their delicate parts into their shells for protection when threatened. The researchers suggest a possible scenario where the resin flowed around the snail's shell in a way that prevented it from hiding inside its shell. 

The snail may have suffered a grim fate all those years ago, but it's now one of a group of remarkable amber fossils from around the same time period, including a tick encased in a spider web and a nightmare-inducing arachnid with a tail.

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