The researchers say the name highlights the “hardcore” nature of the snail, now known as Alviniconcha strummeri, which lives in one of the hottest, most acidic environments on the planet — right up against hydrothermal vents in the Indian and western Pacific oceans.
A paper describing the Joe Strummer snail and four similar species was published this month in the journal Systematics and Biodiversity.
“I do a lot of outreach, and when I talk to kids I always tell them these snails are punk rock,” said Shannon Johnson, a scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and the lead author on the paper. “So, when it came time to name them, we were like — we should totally name them after a punk rocker.”
Johnson said the team chose Strummer not just because of his iconic punk status, but also because he was an environmentalist who strove to be a carbon-neutral artist.
“The deep sea is the biggest unexplored environment in the world,” she said.
“Punk rock” snails at the White Rhino hydrothermal vent field in the Fiji Basin (Western Pacific Ccean). The Alviniconcha are white. (Robert Vrijenhoek / Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Woods Hole Oceanographic Research Institution)
Alviniconcha strummeri and the other snails named in the paper are what are called cryptic species, meaning it is impossible to tell them apart by looks alone. They have relatively thin shells, and grow quite large –somewhere between the size of a golf ball and a softball. The color of their shells changes depending on the chemical makeup of their environment.
They have been found as deep as 11,500 feet beneath the ocean surface and as shallow as 1,150 feet. But specimens have never survived a journey to the surface.
“Their proteins are unfolding by the time we get them up,” said Johnson.
Most Alviniconcha are found in piles around the deep-sea vents, eating the microbes that mine the chemicals shooting into the water for energy. Scientists are not sure why the snails’ shells are so spiky, but Johnson said one thought is that it increases the surface area of the shell, allowing more bacteria to grow on it.
“These guys are covered in bacteria, but we don’t know what they are doing with it,” she said.
However, there is no denying that the spikes add to the punk-rock look of the snail.
Strummer, who died in 2002, is not the first musician to have an animal named after him. For example, in June 2013, scientists named an ancient, giant lizard after the “lizard king” Jim Morrison.