SCIENCE

Newly Discovered Land Snail Is The Tiniest In The World

It breaks the record for smallest on Earth just weeks after the most recent record was set.

Apparently, it's a snail-beat-snail world out there.

Just a month after being crowned the smallest land snail in the world, the Chinese Angustopila dominikae has to give up its title to a newly discovered itsy-bitsy species.

A team of Dutch and Malaysian researchers recently found an even tinier land snail, named Acmella nana, on the Malaysian island of Borneo -- it's about 0.16 millimeters smaller than Angustopila. In a paper published in the journal ZooKeys on Monday, the researchers describe the small species as being an average size of 0.7 millimeters.

And, it turns out that Acmella nana wasn't the only little snail on the island.

"Almost half of the species in Borneo are less than two millimeters in size," Dr. Menno Schilthuizen, a professor of evolution at Leiden University in the Netherlands and a co-author of the paper, told The Huffington Post in an email. "Our paper was in review when that paper on Angustopila dominikae came out and it was only then that we realized that one of 'our' species was actually smaller."

The newly discovered&nbsp;<i>Acmella nana&nbsp;</i>snail is a tiny&nbsp;0.7 millimeters in size.
The newly discovered Acmella nana snail is a tiny 0.7 millimeters in size.

The researchers also identified 47 other new species of snail in Borneo. The new findings are based on over 25 years of research and documentation of Malaysia's mollusks. 

To find the previously unknown creatures, Schilthuizen said that they gathered bags of soil from the foot of limestone cliffs and then tossed the soil into buckets of water.

"All the sand and clay sinks, but the flotsam contains thousands of empty snail shells, which float," he said. "We would probably not have seen them by the naked eye."

Next, the researchers hope to find living specimens of their newfound mollusks in an effort to better understand and protect them.

"Our method yields mostly empty shells," Schilthuizen said, "so we are still in the dark about their ecology and behavior."

A close look at some&nbsp;of the new snails, discovered by sieving soil.
A close look at some of the new snails, discovered by sieving soil.

The newly discovered land snails are slow-moving and tend to remain in the same small habitats for generations. In fact, seven of the new species can only be found in the highest mountain in Malaysia, Borneo's Mount Kinabalu. Another newfound species lives only at a cave entrance in Malaysia's second highest mountain, Mount Trusmadi.  

Since they tend to remain in small areas for a long period of time, the snail species are endemic to Borneo, and are similar to the finch species that Darwin encountered on the Galapagos Islands in 1835.

The land snails, however, are not small enough to be crowned the smallest in the world. A sea snail, Ammonicera minortalis, holds that record as it ranges in size from about 0.32 to 0.46 millimeters in length.

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