New snail species discovered in Arunachal cave
Photo by Barna Pall-Gergely

Guwahati: An expedition carried out by researchers from the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) after 110 years has led to the discovery of a new snail species from a cave in Arunachal Pradesh.

The newly discovered snail species, Alycaeus himalayae, was found in a small limestone cave by the road from Yemsing to Pangi, clinging to the wet cave wall amidst moss and dripping water.

Neelavar Ananthram Aravind of the SM Sehgal Foundation Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, who was leading the Siang expedition, mentioned that the British undertook an expedition in the Siang valley called the Abor Expedition in response to the killing of a British political officer.

Photo by Barna Pall-Gergely

“This was a military expedition. Along with them, they took a zoologist and a botanist. These biologists collected a lot of plant and animal species and subsequently described,” Aravind told EastMojo.

“We at ATREE and Felis Creations, a media company headed by Sandesh Kadur, an acclaimed wildlife photographer and videographer, resurveyed the same areas where British biologists sampled 110 years ago. During this expedition, we found a small cave next to the road near Yensing in the Siang valley. This cave had some snails. Upon examination and collaboration with the Hungarian expert Barna Páll-Gergely, it turned out to be a new species to science. The genus is the first to be reported in India, as this genus is restricted to Southeast Asia and not known in the Indian region,” Aravind said.

“This is, so far, the only Alycaeus species inhabiting the Himalayas, and thus, its discovery is a surprise,” he added. All other known Alycaeus species are reported from Laos, Vietnam, southern Thailand, and Peninsular Malaysia.

Alycaeus is a genus of small land snails, and members of the family Alycaeidae are distributed from Southern India to Japan. The Himalayan region is one of the centres of their diversity in terms of the number of species and genera.

This new species differs from all other Himalayan alycaeid species due to its yellowish, conical shell. The most similar shell in the vicinity is Stomacosmethis spratti from Shan States, Myanmar, but it has a short sutural tube. Alycaeus himalayae sp. N. differs from all other Alycaeus species by the characteristic trumpet-like projection on the outer side of the operculum.

“The report of a new species of Alycaeus from Arunachal Pradesh in India raises some very interesting biogeographic questions about the real extent of its distribution in South and Southeast Asia. This also calls for further extensive field surveys in northeast India, which might yield many more such surprises. Alycaeus himalayae species was collected from a roadside limestone cave that needs to be protected and conserved,” the paper on the discovery published in the ‘Acta Zoologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae’ journal says.

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One more new snail species, Cycloryx pemaledai, was reported by Neelavar Ananthram Aravind from Sikkim. The species was first described in northwestern Bhutan and has now been reported for the first time in Sikkim, India. That species differs from all its congeners, and the differences between the Bhutanese and Indian shells are minimal; therefore, the Indian shells are identified as Cycloryx cf. pemaledai.

The two localities are approximately 115 km apart. Snails were gathered in India from mossy, shrubby slopes with dry litter at an elevation of 2,750 metres, featuring Rhododendron shrubs. The Indian shells have wider, more rounded whorls.

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