Robert Irwin delighted after one of five newly discovered snail species named in his honour

The new snail species are varied. One is extinct, while another was named after Robert Irwin.

Researchers announced the discovery of five new snail species in Australia, delighting conservationists, and striking fear into the hearts of gardeners.

One of the snails poses little threat to modern plants as they are believed to be extinct. “It’s quite a while ago they were around, but never say never,” Helen Ryan from the Western Australian Museum told Yahoo News. She was part of a team that examined the three-million-year-old molluscs that slithered across the Nullarbor when it was wetter and lush with vegetation.

The other four species are very much alive, and in an unusual move, conservationists have named one after Robert Irwin which will no doubt help raise its profile. While the tiny brown creature looks nothing like the Crocodile Hunter’s famous son, his namesake seems enamoured by the animal, and is already advocating for its protection.

Fossilised remains of Bothriembryon pilkiensis being held in someone's hand.
Fossilised remains of a new species Bothriembryon pilkiensis were discovered. Source: WA Museum

“Have a look at him, isn’t he cute,” Irwin proclaimed to his 5.8 million Instagram followers. He then added, "These little legends are so cool, and a very important part of the ecosystem."

The snail has been named Robert Irwin’s Banded Snail, something the young conservationist described as “an honour”, something he added was “particularly meaningful” because much of his environmental work is focused on habitat preservation. “Even though this is a new species we already know habitat destruction is one of the biggest leading threats to this species,” he said.

Because the patterns and colours of individuals within the same species vary, prior to the completion of DNA analysis by Queensland Museum, scientists had struggled to tell them apart.

“The field and research of malacology in Australia is a crucial study as the research undertaken into these molluscs can provide insights in the management and conservation of forests,” Queensland Museum CEO Dr Jim Thompson said.

Details of the new living species have been published in the journal Molluscan Research. Their names are:

  • Figuladra finlaysoni

  • Figuladra robertirwini

  • Figuladra bromileyorum

  • Figuladra vidulus

Figuladra robertirwini holotype.
Figuladra robertirwini was named after conservationist Robert Irwin. Source: Queensland Museum

By naming living species it makes it easier for scientists to advocate for their protection. But the discovery of the fossilised specimens in Western Australia are no less important and help us understand how ancient Australia once looked.

“They show that the Nullarbor was a lot different. There were more trees and less shrubs. It shows how our climate has changed over time,” WA Museum’s Helen Ryan said.

“We had eucalypts, pines and conifers, and the rainfall was a lot higher. But over time its dried out and all of those trees have receded into the southwest.

“But when the weather dries out they hibernate and wait for the rains to come. It’s possible with the ones we found, the rains didn’t come and they died.”

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