Snails are among the most commonly found creatures on Earth. While they may be near ubiquitous, snails are also exceptionally diverse. Now, scientists have uncovered 48 new species, including the world’s smallest snail, in Borneo, a region of Malaysia.
Snails are sometimes thought of as insects, but actually belong to the Mollusca family, along with clams and other similar animals. Snails without shells are often called slugs.
All of the snails found were land snails, and all were found in Sabah, a region of Malaysia known for its ecological diversity. Malaysia is considered one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, even in spite of its relatively small size.
Malaysia is one of only 17 countries to be labeled as megadiverse. The country secured this distinction even in spite of its small size. Many megadiverse countries are huge, like the United States and China, and feature many climates and different ecosystems.
Besides finding the world’s smallest known small, researches also found a uniquely twisted snail. The narrow, long-shaped snails
Wondering exactly how tiny the world’s tiniest known snail is? The tiny, shiny, Acmella nana snail stands a mere .7 millimeters high, narrowing edging out the Chinese Angustopila dominikae to take the top spot, which stands .86 millimeters high. Nana, by the way, stands for dwarf, which is certainly an apt name.
In fact, the Acmella nana is so small that researchers actually had to use a microscope to find it in the wild. Besides being tiny, the snail is also translucent, making the task of finding it very difficult indeed.
While finding individual snails wasn’t easy, the scientists knew where to look. A group of Dutch and Malaysian researchers headed into the limestone hills of Borneo, which are rich with biodiversity, and specifically snails. What makes the limestone hills so popular with the snails? They’re able to use calcium carbonate from the limestone to make their shells.
The first step to finding the snails was to gather large amounts of soil and litter from underneath the limestone cliffs. Next, the researchers were then able to sieve the contents. Another method is to dump the content into water and stir it up. The dirt and clay will sink to the bottom, while snail shells will float to the top.
At this point, it’s just a matter of scooping them up and putting them under a microscope. Of course, this itself can be an intimidating task given that a few buckets of soil can literally contain thousands of snails.
Then, they scoop out the floating shells and sort them under a microscope.
The discoveries were published in the journal Zootaxa