Researchers have for the first time described an unique snail species that can only be found high on top Mount Kaputar in New South Wales, Australia. The snails exhibit an atypical coloring – fluorescent pink – and can grow as large as eight inches long, true giants by snail standards.
Though Triboniophorus aff. graeffei has been reported by locals in the past, it’s only recently that researchers have confirmed that the species is truly unique to this ecosystem. Apparently, the snails are very elusive, mostly because they can only be found on a ten square kilometer patch in the subalpine reaches of Mount Kaputar, a 5,000-foot peak that was once a volcano. In addition, the snails hide during the day time, making them even harder to spot, and only come out at night when they climb trees to forage for food.
“As bright pink as you can imagine, that’s how pink they are,” said National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger Michael Murphy who was part of the team who set out to tag and describe the peculiar pink snails. Indeed, judging from the photos, these snails are truly one of a kind.
Mount Kaputar is home to a number of distinct species, in addition to these fantastic pink slugs, which the researchers name living relics, since they’ve remained largely unchanged since the time Australia was covered in rainforest and was part of a vast supercontinent known as Gondwana, or Gondwanaland. Volcanic activity and other geological changes dried out the continent, reshaping the ecosystem, however a volcanic eruption at Mount Kaputar about 17 million years ago created a rare haven for the ancient creatures.
“We’ve actually got three species of cannibal snail on Mount Kaputar, and they’re voracious little fellas,” said Murphy. “They hunt around on the forest floor to pick up the slime trail of another snail, then hunt it down and gobble it up.”
The region is thought to be extremely environmentally sensitive, as only a few degrees of warming could spell disaster for the fragile mountain ecosystem. Given the large number of distinct species in the area, the NSW Scientific Committee is thinking about designating the area as a protected ”endangered ecological community.”
“It’s just one of those magical places, especially when you are up there on a cool, misty morning,” Murphy said.
A magical place indeed, by the sound of it at least. Hopefully, we’ll kept it that way.
Photos courtesy of New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service.