Scientists found the world’s tiniest snail at the foot of a limestone quarry in southern China. The microsnail is ten times smaller than the eye of a needle and 9 million times reduced in size than its giant counterpart, the African land snail.
Researchers said that the first specimen of microsnails was found by András Hunyadi, a Hungarian-born explorer and shell collector, a couple of years ago. In the meantime, researchers found seven more in soil samples taken from the Chinese Guangxi province.
Angustopila dominikae is the smallest known microsnail. It is 0.86 mm tall and has a preference for limestone because it can dwell in its super-small crevices. Ben Rowson , a curator at the National Museum of Wales, said that the snail is nine million smaller in volume than giant snails, whose shells can reach 7.1 inches in length.
Barna Páll-Gergely, a Japanese land snail expert from Shinshu University and lead author of the finding, explained that the tiny snail hides inside its shell in limestone crevices when the atmosphere is dry. When it rains it gets out and starts feeding on algae that thrive in moisture.
Although its size may shield it from large predators, it does have its own natural enemies. In the tropical and subtropical regions it usually lives, micro-arthropods that have an appetite for land snails also thrive, explained Richard Preece of the Museum of Zoology in Cambridge, U.K.
Additionally, the newly found snail does not have the standard defense mechanisms common land snails have – safe rooms and trap doors within their shells.
Researchers, however, feel that they reached a deadlock when it comes to describing the newly found species. They said that they have a single shell of an Angustopila dominikae and they couldn’t so far extract any DNA from it. Plus, they have a lot of questions about how this creature feeds, mates, and fights off its enemies without defense mechanisms.
Unfortunately, those questions may remain unanswered until researchers find another specimen which is alive or died recently. Other species of microsnails were found in Thailand, Malaysia and continental China. All species live on high limestone mountains above forest level.
Researchers are also curious about the snails’ unusual size. What events triggered it? Did they came in small size or is their size an adaptation to their environment? Scientists suspect that there may be other microsnails waiting to be discovered. And the sizes may be even smaller.
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