Aegista diversifamilia is a newly-recognized species of snail, named after a worldwide movement for marriage equality among people of all sexual persuasions.
The species was first seen in 1874, but researchers confused the animals with a similar species, Aegista subchinensis. It was not noticed until 2003 that members of the "species" differed, depending on location. The snails on one side of the Central Mountain Range in Taiwan were found to have significant physical differences from what were believed to be members of the same species from the other side of the divide. Shells of the newly-recognized species are larger and flatter than their cousins on the other side of the Lanyang River.
Study of the animals showed that animals on one side of the range were more closely related to another species of snails than they were those on the other side of the mountain. Researchers determined that snails from the eastern side of the mountains did not belong to the same species as those in the west.
The name Aegista diversifamilia was chosen to recognize the global movement recognizing equal marriage rights for non-heterosexual couples. An article announcing the findings was being prepared, just as the new civil rights movement was starting to gain popularity worldwide.
"It reminded us that Pulmonata land snails are hermaphrodite animals, which means they have both male and female reproductive organs in single individual. They represent the diversity of sex orientation in the animal kingdom. We decided that maybe this is a good occasion to name the snail to remember the struggle for the recognition of same-sex marriage rights," Yen-Chang Lee, of the Academia Sinica in Taipei, said.
This marks the first time the Lanyang River has been shown to be a barrier between species of lowland terrestrial animals.
As many as 26 states currently recognize marriage for same-sex couples, and the United States Supreme Court recently refused to hear a case, effectively shutting down much legal opposition to the practice. The legislature of Taiwan recently voted down a bill which would have legalized such marriages in that nation. That action triggered waves of protests, calling for reform of laws in that nation.
Animals have been named after celebrities, including a beetle named after former actor and governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. A variety of lichen was recently named in honor of President Barack Obama.
Study of Aegista diversifamilia and recognition of the animals as a unique species was detailed in the open access journal ZooKeys.