Papua New Guinea might account for less than 1 percent of Earth’s land area, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in biodiversity. The latest discovery to be made in its remote forests comes in the form of nine new species of land snail with a small size but a big bite.
Despite the richness of Papua New Guinea’s forests, native land snails have gone relatively unsampled there. “We don’t know everything that’s out there,” said John Slapcinsky, lead author of a study describing the new species, in a statement.
“Most people may not realize how poorly known most of the invertebrates are, even though 95 to 99 percent of all animals are invertebrates. You can go to a place, look around for a few months and find all sorts of things that haven’t been described before.”
And that’s exactly what Slapcinsky and colleagues did. Over the course of nine trips between 2002 and 2012, each lasting a month, the researchers traveled on foot over steep mountains into the remote forests. There, they combed through soil and fallen leaves, collecting over 19,000 snails from more than 200 sites.
Of those sampled, nine new species emerged, all with tightly coiled, brown or tan shells; some even had gold, flamelike bands. They all belong to the genus Torresiropa, part of the wider family of Rhytididae, and like their relatives, possess dagger-shaped teeth. Whilst the researchers didn’t observe them eating, the combination of the shape of their teeth and the fact other members of Rhytididae are carnivorous suggests that the new species are also predatory.
The new species of Torresiropa also happen to be pretty tiny despite their likely carnivorous nature – all nine of them could fit together on a nickel. This made finding them in amongst the dense forest all the more impressive, particularly considering they’re also fussy about where they live; many could only be found on a single island or mountain.
At present, there isn’t enough data to make an accurate or reliable assessment of the conservation status of the new snail species, though the researchers have made some speculations. “These new species of snails were found in areas that still have native vegetation and still appear to be doing well, but they could easily become endangered if things change,” said Slapcinsky.
Land snails already account for around 40 percent of recorded extinctions since the 1500s and Papua New Guinea’s forests present an attractive opportunity for loggers, which could put the new species at risk. “When these habitats are threatened, snails are often out of luck, since they can’t go anywhere,” Slapcinsky explained.
Whether deforestation becomes a threat to the tiny meat-eating mollusks is yet to be seen, but their discovery remains an important glimpse into the wonders that can be found in our planet’s untouched ecosystems.
The study is published in Archiv für Molluskenkunde.