Surveys on islands off the coast in the Kimberley region of Western Australia have discovered at least 45 new species of snail.
“Because the islands are largely unexplored by modern science it means that we are finding previously unrecorded species very quickly and there is a surprisingly high number of them,” said Dr. Frank Kohler with the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC).
The snails are members of ancient camaenid land snails: they are tiny creatures that spend much of their time living underground. Their presence is a good indicator of the island’s environmental condition, according to Kohler.
“Most people will not see them,” he says, “because they bury themselves deep in the soil or hide in crevices to escape the heat and conserve water, only emerging during the wet season […] One of the fascinating features is how you distinguish between different species through the size and shape of the male organs, so what might look like the same snail from the shell is actually another species that you’ll recognise only if you look inside.”
The biological survey of 22 of the largest islands in Kimberley began in 2006 and is set to finish next year. Nine islands still need to be surveyed during the wet season and the researchers believe it is likely that more snails will be discovered.
“Each island is different and tends to support a unique set of species due to its isolation by water and therefore the species form distinct groups which differ from the mainland,” Kohler says to explain the startling number of species.
The survey is a collaboration between DEC, the Western Australian Museum, the Australian Museum and the Kimberley Land Council.
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