The Desert hopper is a large, nocturnal, hopping, monopedal caenogastropodan snail from the Rainshadow Desert of Novopangea, 200 million AD, in the documentary The Future is Wild. When darkness falls, groups of desert hoppers eat as many nutritious plants as they can throughout the night. When morning returns, they all retreat to the shade before they are all caught out in the heat.
As the coexisintg bumblebeetle shows, an essential condition for life in the Rainshadow Desert is the ability to range over large areas looking for food. This requirement has been solved in different ways by different animals, but perhaps the most surprising, when we consider its ancestry, is the desert hopper.
During sunset, there will be movement in the sand and thick desert soil. Desert hoppers will be pushing their way to the surface. First to emerge is the large snail's shell. Then the rest of the creature appears, slowly pushing itself from the sand and soil with its muscular foot. Finally, it raises itself, balancing on the tip of the foot, its body forming an elegant, vertical J-shape.
The tip of the foot has three toe-like projections, which spread its owner's weight across the sand. Instead of being mounted on stalks, this gastropod's eyes are in circular turrets, like those of a chameleon. When completely emerging from the ground, it lifts its shell clear off the ground and sways for a moment. Then the snail jumps away.
Throughout their evolutionary history, land snails have been slow-moving, rather passive animals. They have always preferred moist places where the plants upon which they feed are abundant. Crawling slowly on a strong, muscular, fleshy foot lubricated by a trail of slime, the previous land snails rasped food from plants using their radulae. In the choked and unyielding habitat of the Rainshadow Desert, the desert hopper has evolved to become a successful herbivore among the region's sparse, tough plants.
The desert hopper is 11.78125 inches (30 centimeters) tall. When withdrawn into its spiky shell, it has few enemies. It does not secrete a trail of slime, otherwise it would waste water in its desert habitat. The soft skin of its ancestor has evolved into horny, interlocking scales, forming a tough, lizard-like skin that locks in essential moisture.
Most remarkable of all is the desert hopper's muscular foot. The foot is a jumping organ. It carries the snail across the desert at about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) per hour. In contrast, the giant African snail, the largest Human-era land snail, and also about 11.78125 inches (30 centimeters) long with its body extended, could crawl no faster than about 147.625 feet (45 meters) per hour. However, a species of marine cone snail could use its muscular foot to hop away from predators. In 200 million AD, this has developed into a method of moving swiftly on land. The jumping action also works a bellows mechanism within the shell of the desert hopper, allowing air to be pumped in and out of the lungs and providing sufficient oxygen for its active lifestyle.
The desert hopper's diet consists of tough, fibrous vegetation. The muscular, denticle-covered mouthparts (including the radula) of its ancestor have evolved into a rod-like structure with a denticled "saw" at the end. This can pierce the waterproof cuticle of a plant to reach the soft, watery pulp inside. The desert hopper's shell and thick skin provide an efficient defense against most plant thorns and spines. Like many desert animals, the hopper does not drink. It obtains all of its water from food, and is perfectly adapted to keep moisture within its body.
Despite being a voracious plant-eater, the desert hopper itself is food for a plant: the death-bottle.