Just when everybody thought the smallest snail in the world has finally been discovered in China, scientists in Borneo stumble upon the shell of a new mollusk species with a shell minute enough that it could very well break the record for the tiniest land animal ever.
Biologists from the Universiti Malaysia Sabah and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center gave the new snail species the name Acmella nana, which comes from the Latin word "nanus" which means dwarf. The shell of this tiny creature is around 0.50 to 0.60 millimeters in width and 0.60 to 0.79 millimeters in height.
The Angustopila dominikae, which was discovered in China earlier this year, previously held the title for the smallest species of snail in the world. It was measured at around 0.80 millimeters in width and around 0.89 millimeters in height.
The Acmella nana is part of a group of 48 new snails found in Malaysian Borneo. The researchers have long been familiar with the snails for years but they have not been able to give each species a proper name until now.
Some of the snail species kept a well-hidden existence in the Bornean mountains or in rare types of vegetation, making it difficult for the researchers to find them initially. These include seven new snails that are native only to the jungles of the 4,095-meter (13,435-foot) high Mount Kinabalu.
The Diplommatina tylocheilos, another one of the newly-discovered snails, can only be found at the entrance of the Loloposon Cave located in Mount Trusmadi.
The discovery of the new species of snails provides scientists with a better understanding of endemic creatures such as the Acmella nana.
The slow movement of snails often gets them stuck in very small sections of a habitat. This leaves them with enough time to adapt to their new environment without any disturbance from the outside world, which makes them an ideal subject for research on endemic species.
The limited distribution of the creatures also makes them crucial targets for conservation efforts on biodiversity.
"A blazing forest fire at Loloposon Cave could wipe out the entire population of Diplommatina tylocheilos," Menno Schilthuizen, one of the scientists who discovered the new snail species, said.
The findings of the Universiti Malaysia Sabah and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center study are featured in the journal ZooKeys.
Largest Land Snail in the World
While the record for the smallest snail is still being updated based on recent discoveries, occupying the spot for being one of the largest gastropod mollusks in the world is the giant African land snail (Achatina fulica), which can grow up to 3 to 8 inches in length.
The average life span of the giant African land snail is about five to seven years, but with enough food and comfortable living conditions this massive mollusk can live up to 10 years.
Compared to the new snail species found in Borneo, which tended to live hidden in the mountains, the Achatina fulica is considered to be a highly invasive creature.
According to the Department of Agriculture, this giant snail is one of the most damaging species in the world for agriculture and crops in the United States, consuming at least 500 different plant species.
Photo: Gabriel González | Flickr