Scientists have discovered a microsnail in Southern China, which is so tiny that it can actually fit through the head of a needle. According to experts, it is the smallest land snail to have ever been identified.
Angustopila dominikae measures 0.88 millimetes (0.03 inches) across, and was discovered alongside 6 other species of incredibly tiny snails. The species is part of the microgastropod group, which includes snails measuring less than 5 mm (0.2 inches).
The findings were revealed on September 28 in the journal Zookeys, by a team of experts led by Barna Páll-Gergely, from Shinshu University, Japan.
Initially, researchers believed that the microsnail was a juvenile, given its diminutive dimensions. However, after conducting further tests they determined that indeed it was an adult.
Just the empty shell of the species was found, and it’s so tiny that the head of match seems gargantuan in comparison. Its color is light gray, and the texture is soft and delicate. The shells were identified in a soil sample taken from a limestone cliff in Guangxi, a Chinese autonomous region bordering Vietnam.
Scientists are now speculating what kind of lifestyle this species may lead. According to them, it is likely that these gastropods share the same eating habits as cave snails. Basically, they feed on tiny organisms like bacteria and fungi.
It is also probable that they pass their time staying attached to limestone, because they require it for their shells, which are made of calcium carbonate. Researchers have indeed identified bits of calcium limestone in the guts of cave snails.
The miniature size of this new species is actually an evolutionary advantage, because this adaptation keeps them away from predators, which tend to focus on larger prey. In addition, their round shell allows them to pass through tiny cracks in rocks, and save themselves from the wind or other weather changes.
Also, they can survive floods, because if their habitat is displaced by rain, they can capture air bubbles and float across the water. Moreover, the hard carapace may protect them from being eaten by birds.
Like other gastropods, it is highly probable that these snails are hermaphrodites, being capable of alternating between genders in order to reproduce.
According to Eik Neubert, researcher at Bern’s Natural History Museum, this study sheds light on a type of snail species that most people are unaware of. In fact, approximately 75% of gastropods are incredibly small, measuring less than 5 millimeters in length.
The world is full of such creatures, which populate freshwater, sea and land. For example, tropical land snails tend to fall into this microgastropod category, as a study published in 2014 revealed. New research may help advance the study of dwarfism among such invertebrates, as scientists have noted.
Image Source: ZooKeys