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INFOGRAPHIC: What a Blind Scientist Sees

Horned helmet snail shell

In our Summer 2012 issue, writer Susan Freinkel introduces readers to paleontologist Geerat Vermeij, who is blind. But thanks to an exquisite sense of touch, Vermeij sees more deeply into the world of mollusks than many of his sighted colleagues (see "In Each Shell a Story.") By feeling shells of living mollusks and thire fossil counterparts, Vermeij has gained important insights into the way species evolved and how they have adapted to succeed in their environment today.

For example: with some 30 million years of evolution behind it, the horned helmet snail is a species well-equipped for survival. It has a thick, knobby shell that deters predators and a big foot that allows it to quickly lunge on top of sea urchins and smother them. Click "More Photos" on the image above to launch an infographic showing what Vermeij feels when he touches a horned helmet snail's shell and what it tells him.