It is estimated that over 700 species of land snail in museum collections are waiting to be identified. As Australia hosts a wide variety of snail and slug species, new species are being discovered regularly.
A rare camaenid land snail from north Queensland
In 1940 the Curator of Molluscs at the Australian Museum, Tom Iredale (1880-1972) described the Mossman Gorge Treesnail, Meliobba shafferyi after the late Joe Shaffery who collected this land snail from the Mossman area of northern Queensland. At the time Iredale, who was also a respected ornithologist, was attempting to show relationships between the New Guinean and northern Australian land snails in much the same way that he had done for some birds. To his astonishment a consignment of land snails from Mr Shaffery, who was a Mossman local with an interest in natural history, included specimens of this impressive species. The shell measures approximately 45 mm in diameter and 25 mm in height, and is notable for its vivid colouration which contrasts with the many shades of brown that are a fairly constant feature of shells of Australian land snails. Another uncommon characteristic of the shell was the surface sculpture which consisted of concentric malleations. This unusual combination of characters immediately led Iredale to making comparisons with some similar looking New Guinean species which he later placed in Negotobba Iredale, 1941. This genus was later synonymised with Meliobba by American malacologists William Clench and Ruth Turner who added a number of other species from the New Guinean region, thereby cementing the connection with northern Australia. However, more recently former Museum of Tropical Queensland scientist Bronwen Scott gained access to a single live specimen of the species. Her studies on the species’ reproductive anatomy and subsequent comparisons with similar structure in New Guinean Meliobba, indicated that the previous associations based on similarity of shell characters alone were questionable. Although Scott was the first to detail the animal colour (orange on black) the accompanying image is the first known photograph of this spectacular species. And judging by the two breaks visible on the shell, this individual has led a rather precarious but fortunate life. The shell breaks are most likely indications of attempted but unsuccessful predation by some itinerant vertebrate!!
To this day M. shafferyi is considered a rare snail and only a few shells exist in museum collections. Past efforts by the author to locate live specimens in Mossman Gorge have proven fruitless.
The specimen was found and photographed by Tim Hawkes while undertaking a weed removal program in the Whyanbeel Valley, north of Mossman, north Queensland.
- Crikey steveirwini gen. et sp. nov. from montane habitats in the Wet Tropics of northeastern Queensland, Australia (Gastropoda: Eupulmonata: Camaenidae)
Abstract: Crikey steveirwini gen. et sp. nov. is described from montane habitats in the Wet Tropics of northeastern Queensland, Australia. This species is unique among the eastern Australian arboreal camaenids in both distribution (confined to montane refugia), and genital morphology (lacking a penial verge). An assessment of the phylogenetic position of C. steveirwini is made based on a combination of morphological features (shell and anatomy) and available molecular data. The biogeographic implications for the Australian camaenid radiation of this altitudinally restricted species are briefly discussed. Read the paper: Crikey_steveirwini
Zootaxa paper: Crikey steveirwini gen. et sp. nov. from montane habitats in the Wet Tropics of northeastern Queensland, Australia (Gastropoda: Eupulmonata: Camaenidae), JOHN STANISIC,Queensland Museum, PO Box 3300, South Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
- Shea, M., Colgan, D. & Stanisic, J. 2012. Systematics of the land snail genus Gyrocochlea and its relatives. (Mollusca: Charopidae). Zootaxa. 3585: 1-109.
- Stanisic, J. 2013 : A new genus, Denhamiana gen. nov., and two new species of land snail from inland central Queensland (Eupulmonata, Camaenidae). Memoirs of the Queensland Museum – Nature 58: 367–374. MQM-N58 Stanisic
Media Report: A new genus, Denhamiana gen. nov and two new species of land snail from inland central Queensland. (Eupulmonata, Camenidae).
BAAM Biodiversity Scientist and ecological consultant, Dr John Stanisic has named a Queensland land snail in honour of German explorer and naturalist extraordinaire, Ludwig Leichhardt, in commemoration of his 200th birthday. The bicentenary of Leichhardt was celebrated in a special edition of the Queensland Museum Memoirs wherein a team of Australian researchers led by Queensland Museum scientists contributed 18 scientific papers dealing with 21 genera and 155 species, of which 9 genera and 123 species were new to science. An additional two volumes describe his exploits and achievements. Leichhardt’s expeditions contributed much to the early exploration of Queensland, and it was on one such expedition, to cross the continent east to west, that Leichhardt and his party disappeared never to be heard of again. The land snail, Denhamiana leichhardti, one of two in the newly described genus, is known only from the Carborough Range in inland central eastern Queensland. A sister species, Denhamiana laetifica, comes from the neighbouring Denham Range. Both occur in the brigalow bioregion which so intrigued Leichhardt from the very first encounter.
Denhamiana laetifica was named by a Year 2 student Matthew Limbert.
- Australian Land Snails, Volume 1 describes some 70 new genera and 308 new species in the areas from the New South Wales/Victorian border to the islands of Torres Strait and approximately 300km inland in Eastern Australia.
Australian Land Snails, Volume 2 is due for release in 2015.
This field guides features an additional 800 species from the temperate forests of south-eastern Australia to the semi-arid Gawler and Flinders Ranges of South Australia; the arid Red Centre; the Pilbara and Kimberley of Western Asutralia; and the Nothern Territory’s Top End.
Included in the guide are colour images, descriptions, distribution maps, key localities, habitat and ecology notes and a key to families. A comprehensive introductory section covers such topics as land snail habitats, land snail collecting, snail identification features and snail behaviour and ecology.
Jonathon Parkyn and David Newell
Abstract: Land snails are an important yet often neglected component of Australia’s biological diversity. Despite high levels of diversity within this group and the identification of many narrow range endemic species as being of conservation concern, there have been few detailed studies that document the ecology and conservation requirements of the group. A range of threats has been suggested, yet relatively few have been rigorously assessed. Whilst factors such as land clearing are readily apparent and have resulted in extinctions, other threats such as climate change are not well understood. This paper reviews studies conducted on terrestrial molluscs in Australia and highlights the need for further targeted ecological research, given the likely level of on-going threats. We urge researchers to apply rigorous approaches to data collection that will enable a deeper understanding of the factors governing distribution and abundance. Approaches used in other areas of conservation biology offer considerable scope for application to land snails and for the development of appropriate conservation strategies.
- The natural diet of the endangered camaenid land snail Thersites mitchellae (Cox, 1864) in northern New South Wales, Australia Jonathan Parkyn1, Agung Challisthianagara1, Lyndon Brooks2, Alison Specht3, Sapphire McMullan-Fisher4, David Newell5
Abstract: The natural diet of the camaenid land snail Thersites mitchellae (Cox, 1864) was investigated by examination of the faecal contents of specimens collected from a range of substrates. The composition of faecal pellets from 22 snails obtained from three different substrates was determined. The results demonstrate that T. mitchellae has a generalist feeding strategy that varies with substrate. Fungal material contributed a high proportion of the diet, suggesting that coarse woody debris (a common fungal substrate) may be an important requirement for populations of T. mitchellae in rainforest-associated habitats. Thersites mitchellae was the first species for which a critical habitat determination was made under the New South Wales Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. This study adds to our knowledge of the biology of this poorly known land snail. Future studies would benefit from obtaining data pertaining to the timing and frequency of fungal dispersal and substrate preferences to gain further understanding about the availability of fungi as a food source.
Research conducted by primary school students
- Samford State School, Queensland [Ages 11 and 12 working with Dr Stanisic as a mentor]
OUTCOME: Appreciation of the role of invertebrates in the ecosystem; Comparison of Riparian [creek], Araucaria forest [school] and Rainforest [Mt Glorious] habitats and their biodiversity; Recommendations for school yard improvements.
In this case, the students examined the invertebrate biodiversity of two sites which are distinguished (among other things) by quite different vegetation structure (trees and shrubs). The common view would be that there should be a difference in the invertebrate biodiversity of the two sites, with probably greater diversity at the creek site because of the more diverse vegetation. They could then hypothesise that there is a difference in the invertebrate biodiversity of the two sites based on their knowledge of invertebrate habitat preferences. And they would normally expect this to be true. But in science there is a need to test this hyptothesis with data rather than just making an educated guess.
So their hypothesis [H1] was: There is a difference in the invertebrate biodiversity of the two sites.
This is called the alternative hypothesis. However, to prove that this is really true and not due to chance alone, they tried to disprove what is called the ‘null hypothesis’. This is the hypothesis which is the opposite of the alternative hypothesis.
So their null hypothesis [H0] is: There is no difference in the invertebrate biodiversity of the two sites.
They tried to disprove this hypothesis with data collected in a scientific experiment which was their field survey. The data collected is usually analysed and tested by specially designed statistical significance tests and probability tables. To simplify matters, in their case, the analysis was going to be just a comparing the numbers of the key invertebrate groups which they managed to collect at the two sites. Higher numbers would indicate a greater diversity. A show of hands from all the 10 participants was used instead of probability tables. If at least 9 out of 10 hands are raised when the Snail Whisperer asked whether there was a significant difference in the numbers of invertebrate groups between site 1 and site 2, then the null hypothesis was considered disproved.
As a result the alternative hypothesis which is ‘that there is a difference in the invertebrate biodiversity of the two sites’…is accepted as a true and factual statement.