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New Hermaphrodite Snail Celebrates Marriage Equality

Oct 13, 2014 02:17 PM EDT
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A new hermaphrodite snail, long confused for another type of snail species, is celebrating marriage equality in the scientific world.

Named Aegista diversifamilia, the species refers to the diversity of family types, because it "represents the diversity of sex orientation in the animal kingdom," according to BBC News.

Its discovery was reported in the journal ZooKeys.

"When we were preparing the manuscript, it was a period when Taiwan and many other countries and states were struggling for the recognition of same-sex marriage rights," Dr. Yen-Chang Lee, who was involved in the study, said in a statement.

The snail is widespread throughout eastern Taiwan, but was previously mistaken for a closely related species, Aegista subchinensis. Lee noticed that there was morphological divergence between the western and eastern populations of A. subchinensis, separated by the Central Mountain Range.

Together with researchers from the National Taiwan Normal University, Lee applied three molecular markers combined with morphological analysis to estimate the divergence and relationship among the closely related snails.

"When we examined the phylogeny from each gene," co-author Chih-Wei Huang said, "it suggested that the eastern A. subchinensis was more closely related to A. vermis, a similar land snail species inhabited in Ishigaki Island, than the western A. subchinensis."

They confirmed that what was thought to be A. subchinensis from eastern Taiwan was in fact a new species, which biologists christened A. diversifamilia, meaning the diverse forms of human families.

"It reminded us that Pulmonata land snails are hermaphrodite animals, which means they have both male and female reproductive organs in a single individual," Lee explained.

"We decided that maybe this is a good occasion to name the snail to remember the struggle for the recognition of same-sex marriage rights."

The new species has a larger, flatter shell and is in fact more closely related to a land snail from Ishigaki Island in Japan.

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