The Gastropoda or gastropods, more commonly known as snails and slugs, are a large taxonomic class within the phylum Mollusca. The class Gastropoda includes snails and slugs of all kinds and all sizes from microscopic to large. There are many thousands of species of sea snails and sea slugs, as well as freshwater snails and freshwater limpets, as well as land snails and land slugs.
The class Gastropoda contains a vast total of named species, second only to the insects in overall number. The fossil history of this class goes back to the Late Cambrian. There are 611 families of gastropods, of which 202 families are extinct, being found only in the fossil record.
Gastropoda (previously known as univalves and sometimes spelled Gasteropoda) are a major part of the phylum Mollusca and are the most highly diversified class in the phylum, with 60,000 to 80,000 living snail and slug species. The anatomy, behavior, feeding and reproductive adaptations of gastropods vary significantly from one clade or group to another. Therefore, it is difficult to state many generalities for all gastropods.
The class Gastropoda has an extraordinary diversification of habitats. Representatives live in gardens, in woodland, in deserts, and on mountains; in small ditches, great rivers and lakes; in estuaries, mudflats, the rocky intertidal, the sandy subtidal, in the abyssal depths of the oceans including the hydrothermal vents, and numerous other ecological niches, including parasitic ones.
Although the name "snail" can be, and often is, applied to all the members of this class, commonly this word means only those species with an external shell large enough that the soft parts can withdraw completely into it. Those gastropods without a shell, and those with only a very reduced or internal shell, are usually known as slugs.
The marine shelled species of gastropod include edible species such as abalone, conches, periwinkles, whelks, and numerous other sea snails that produce seashells which are coiled in the adult stage, even though in some cases the coiling may not be very visible, for example in cowries. There are also a number of families of species such as all the various limpets, where the shell is coiled only in the larval stage, and is a simple conical structure after that.
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