Researchers studying a common snail in Taiwan have just discovered that two distinct species living on opposite sides of a mountain range have been mistaken as one for over a century. They’ve named the new species Aegista diversifamilia, after recent efforts to support equal marriage rights around the world. The work was published in ZooKeys this week.
First described in 1884, Aegista subchinensis is a land snail that’s only found in Taiwan. It’s widely distributed across the large island, living on the ground or just under the leaf litter in lowland, hardwood forests. About a decade ago, Yen-Chen Lee of Academia Sinica noticed that the western and eastern populations—separated by the Central Mountain Range—appeared quite different morphologically.
Now, to estimate the divergence and relationship among closely related Aegista snails, Lee and colleagues from National Taiwan Normal University collected 50 live snails identified as A. subchinensis from 10 sites in Taiwan as well as other species within the same genus from a handful of sites throughout Taiwan and Japan. The team applied three molecular markers to the snails’ DNA and analyzed all their morphological differences.
Pictured here, eastern snails (A-E) versus western snails (F,G):
The eastern A. subchinensis, they found, is more closely related to A. vermis (which lives on Ishigaki Island) than the western A. subchinensis. The eastern snail also has a larger shell size and flatter shell shape, and they don't live north of the Lanyang River. The researchers named the new species from eastern Taiwan A. diversifamilia, derived from “diversus” (Latin for different) and “familia” (Latin for family, adjective of feminine gender)—in reference to diverse forms of human families.
"When we were preparing the manuscript," Lee explains in a news release, "it was a period when Taiwan and many other countries and states were struggling for the recognition of same-sex marriage rights.” These land snails are hermaphroditic animals: Single individuals have both male and female reproductive organs. “They represent the diversity of sex orientation in the animal kingdom,” Lee adds. “We decided that maybe this is a good occasion to name the snail to remember the struggle for the recognition of same-sex marriage rights."
Images: Chih-Wei Huang CC-BY 4.0 (top), Huang et al., ZooKeys 2014 (middle)