CAMBRIAN to PLEISTOCENE PERIOD: 497 million years ago - 10,000 years ago
Gastropods are a type of mollusks called univalves. They are the largest and most successful class of mollusks and can be found in both underwater (both marine and freshwater) and land environments. Most species have shells, carrying their home with them. While most have coiled shells, some species have non-coiled shells or no shell at all. This shell is made up of lime and is secreted by the animal from a part of their soft bodies called a mantle.
Gastropods have bodies that are soft made up of a large flat mucus-covered 'foot' on which the animal slowly glides, and a head with eyes, tentacles and mouth. The mouth includes a lower jaw with tiny rasping teeth. Some gastropods are carnivorous and some are herbivorous. The ones that are carnivorous use these teeth to drill a hole in their victim's shell to allow the gastropod to eat the soft flesh within. The herbivorous types use these teeth to scrape plant matter off of a substrate. Despite the fact that gastropods mate, most are hermaphroditic (having both male and female organs).
Gastropods first emerged in the fossil record during the Late Cambrian Period 497 million years ago. They increased with great diversity during the Carboniferous Period 354 million years ago. During the mass extinction at the end of the Permian Period 251 million years ago most died out but some survived and began to diversify again and survive until today. In many cases, gastropods have become a dominant organism in most of their typical environments.