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New species of snail named in honor of same-sex marriage: Say hello to Aegista diversifamilia

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LGBT rights and same-sex marriage activists now have a new ally in the animal kingdom: a newly identified odd species of a hermaphrodite snail endemic in Taiwan.

Known as Aegista diversifamilia, the snail was so named in recognition of same-sex marriage rights and to embody the diversity of sexual orientation in the animal world, according to the researchers who identified the new land snail species.

The snail was first thought to be a member of the Aegista subchinensis, a common species of snail in Taiwan that was first identified in 1884 but it was not until 2003 that Yen-Chang Lee from Academia Sinica in Taipei thought that there may be more than one species of the A. subchinensis when he noticed differences in the physical traits of the two populations of the snails that are found in either side of Taiwan's Central Mountain Range (Zhongyang Range).

The eastern snails have larger and flatter shells compared with the snails in the western side, prompting researchers to conduct an investigation. It turned out that the eastern and western populations of the snails are indeed two different species.

Chih-Wei Huang, a researcher from the National Taiwan Normal University, said that the eastern snail was more closely related to a similar snail species called A. vermis, which is found in Ishigaki Island, than the western snail.

"Based on multilocus sequence analyses and comparative morphology, we demonstrate that Aegista snails from eastern Taiwan, originally identified as A. subchinensis, represent a new species which is herein described as A. diversifamilia sp. n.," the researchers wrote in a new study published in the journal ZooKeys on Oct. 13.

Other scientists may have settled to naming the new species after some popular celebrities and politicians but the researchers decided to name it after the call for equal marriage rights.

Lee said that at the time that he and his colleagues were preparing the manuscript of their report, Taiwan and other countries were struggling for the recognition of rights for same-sex marriage.

"It reminded us that Pulmonata land snails are hermaphrodite animals, which means they have both male and female reproductive organs in a single individual. They represent the diversity of sex orientation in the animal kingdom," Lee said. "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."

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