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New snail species found in lithorefugia at Cape Melville, north of Cooktown

A new species of land snail (pictured), previously unknown to science, has just been discovered among the isolated, rocky talus (lithorefugia) of Cape Melville National Park. The species belongs to the family Camaenidae and has a flattened shell (shell diameter = 15mm) with a sharp peripheral keel; the animal is black with orange tentacles and an orange tail. The snail was collected by Keiran Aland and Conrad Hoskin while searching for rare amphibians.



he discovery of a new species of land snail in eastern Australia should hardly raise a headline given the results of surveys conducted at almost 2500 sites over the past 30 years while mollusc curator at the Queensland Museum and of late, biodiversity scientist, BAAM. In this time some 900 new species have been discovered of which almost 300 have been documented in the Whitley award winning ‘Australian land snails Volume 1. A field guide to eastern Australian species’  by Stanisic et al. (2010). Hence, finding a previously unknown, reasonably large and ‘showy’ species of camaenid, in view of these previous collecting efforts, is worthy of special mention. It once again, strongly underlines the on-going lack of knowledge about our invertebrate fauna which is 99% of animal diversity.


The find also silently reinforces the status of some habitats on Cape York as conservationally significant on the sole basis of their unique endemic invertebrate faunas as highlighted by the land snails. Traditionally the loud emphasis has fallen on vertebrates and vegetation in making such determinations. The lithorefugia of Cape Melville (pictured) and Altonmoui Range, the rainforests of the Iron Range and McIlwraith Range, the spring environments of the Steve Irwin Reserve and the vine thickets of the Tip of the Cape are all exemplars of the Cape’s special habitats. These areas are all identified by their unique land snail faunas which often include highly localised endemic species such as the one found at Cape Melville.


At a broader level, the find continues to highlight the part that land snails (and other invertebrates) can play in identifying special habitats in their roles as both environmental indicators and biodiversity predictors. Yet invertebrates are still too often ignored in environmental survey and assessment.


For more information contact Dr John Stanisic (Principal Biodiversity Scientist and Director, BAAM) at  john@baamecology.com