Tiny species of snails, which are probably the smallest in the world, have been discovered by scientists in China. With shells that measure 0.86 mm in height, the discoverers are quite positive that no other snail species could beat its small size.
The team of scientists from Shinshu University and University and Natural History Museum of Bern were then studying soil samples collated amid the limestone rocks of Guangxi Province, situated north of Vietnam. They specifically found seven gray-colored shells, which they believe were indigenous to the region. These include Angustopila dominikae, A. fabella, A. subelevata, A. szekeresi, Hypselostoma socialis, H. lacrima and Krobylos sinensis.
Species with the closest resemblance to the newly discovered snails are said to be found in Thailand, which is 621 miles away. According to Barna Páll-Gergely from the Shinshu University, the species are possibly extremely endemic and that finding them in more than one area is going to be quite a surprise.
For the investigation, the scientists first soaked the shells in water and cleaned them manually using a fine, tapered brush to rid the mud. The researchers ensured that each shell was free of debris by gently circling it back and forth the brushes. The shells were then examined under a low vacuum SEM Miniscope TM-1000 from Hitachi. The number of whorls or spiral patterns in each shell were counted and rounded off to the nearest quarter.
For the Angustopila and Hypselostoma species, the measurements were collated by looking at the images captured via a Nikon camera. For the Krobylos, digital Vernier calipers were utilized.
The findings of the study, published in the journal Zookeys, show that the smallest shell belong to the Angustopila dominikae, which measured 0.86 mm. Next in line is another Angustopila specie, which is the A. subelevata, with a height of 0.87 mm.
"We cannot explain their size by adaptation to the environment," said Páll-Gergely. While it may be possible to predict the evolutionary rationale for small insects, doing so in snails may be challenging. He added that the entire family of species, including their ancestors that lived about 60 million years ago were also very tiny; it somehow thrived in diverse locations and under different weather conditions.
Information about the way snails live have not been clearly established, but according to Adrienne Jochum from the University and Natural History Museum of Bern, if data would be rooted from available facts about cave-dwelling snails, these species turn to bacteria and fungi for food. Jochum also theorized that the snails' round shells enable it to wedge into tiny cracks and float in water when required.
The experts added that it may be impossible for any other species to beat the newly-discovered snails in terms of their tiny size. This is because in order to survive, the size of the organs and number of cells of the animals cannot be smaller and fewer respectively.