Chhimi Dema 

Researchers from the National Biodiversity Centre, Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research, and Naturalis Biodiversity Centre in Leiden discovered eight species of snails in Bhutan which are new to science.

Two research papers on the discovery were published last month.

The new snail species are Cycloryx: pemaledai, globhutanus, haumbiclausus, and sajumbiclausus, and Endothyrella: barnai, manasensis, pterocallus, and trimagnipili.

An author of the paper, Choki Gyeltshen, also the National Biodiversity Centre’s (NBC) deputy chief biodiversity officer, said that there are a few snail taxonomists or researchers in the country.

“The study of snails started only around 2015 with the implementation of the national invertebrates project coordinated by NBC,” he said.

With the project, NBC now has a National Invertebrates Repository consisting of more than 25,000 specimens.

Choki Gyeltshen said that snails and slugs contribute towards balancing the food chain and food webs in various terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. “High diversity of snails are found in healthy forests and waters.”

He said that snails play a crucial role in recycling calcium in the food chain and webs–maintaining the required amount of calcium in the ecosystem.

Calcium is important for plants and animals. In plants, calcium promotes enzyme activity and ensures cell wall function, providing stability to plants.

In animals, calcium is important for bone formation, cell growth and division, coagulation, and muscle contraction, among others.

A major challenge for researchers in the country today is limited or no funds, and limited laboratory facilities. Choki Gyeltshen said that limited laboratory for DNA analysis also makes it difficult to study snails and insects.

According to the research, there are a total of 30 Endothyrella species of which 26 are sinistral and four dextral in Bhutan.

All nine Endothyrella species that are known from Bhutan are sinistral.

Sinistral snails are those, with their tip pointing up, opening on the left side and dextral snails are those opening on the right side.

The snails were discovered in Samdrupjongkhar, Mongar, Manas, Chukha, Haa, and Pemagatshel.

From 2010 to 2022, the country recorded 24 snail species new to science, according to NBC’s status report 2022.

Choki Gyeltshen said that the discovery of eight new species from Bhutan indicates that the ecosystem is healthy and the biodiversity is intact.

The snail, he said, indicates the quality of water in spring sheds.

Choki Gyeltshen said that to conserve biodiversity effectively, there is a need for a scientific knowledge baseline including species specimens. “After the study and conservation assessment, then only we can plan for species-specific conservation and prioritise the conservation needs for effective and sustainable conservation.”

The country has no record of new snail species being invasive.

Choki Gyeltshen said that the new species are native or endemic to Bhutan thus they are well adapted to live with other species and environments.