New species of snail discovered--in a museum! The story of Barkeriella museensis

A story from Trentino that surprised even scientists: a new species of snail never before found in nature has been discovered at MUSE - Trento's Museum of Science. The tiny snail, barely 2 cm greasy, has been christened Barkeriella museensis.

A beautiful and bizarre story comes from Trentino where a new species of snail has been discovered... inside a museum! In the tropical greenhouse of the MUSE - Museum of Science in Trento, during some scientific sampling, a tiny snail just two centimeters long, never before found in nature, was in fact found and described for the first time. It has been named Barkeriella museensis (in honor of Gary Barker, a prominent New Zealand malacologist, and the MUSE in Trento, the site of the discovery), and belongs to a family of terrestrial mollusks, the Rathouisiidae, which is not widely distributed and studied, and is present from East Asia to Australia. The finding, described in the scientific journal Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society and now also in a video produced by MUSE, opens up interesting scenarios for investigating alien species.

The discovery was made by researchers from the University of Siena and the Natural History Museum of the Accademia dei Fisiocritici, during a research project on alien species conducted by the two Siena institutes in collaboration with the University of Poznań, Poland, and the National Biodiversity Future Center (NBFC) as part of the PNRR, under the coordination of Giuseppe Manganelli and Folco Giusti of the Tuscan university, among the few Italian researchers working primarily on terrestrial mollusks.

The small snail showed up during one of the samplings at the tropical greenhouse of MUSE in Trento. By the researchers’ own admission, it is a discovery that has something incredible: in the sieve, between the soil and the plants of the tropical greenhouse, a small snail about two centimeters long belonging to the family Rathouisiidae peeped out. Later, through subsequent morphological and molecular analysis conducted in collaboration with the University of PoznaÅ„, Poland, it was determined that the tiny invertebrate belonged to a species unknown to science.

Its range of origin still remains a mystery, as it is not known in the wild, but it could be located in East Asia or Australia since the family to which it belongs is widespread in those areas. It is uncertain how the snail arrived in the Trentino capital: probably as a result of transporting soil or exotic plants to the museum’s tropical greenhouse.

“MUSE,” explains Debora Barbato, a researcher at the University of Siena/NBFC, “is one of the study areas that together with other botanical gardens and science museums equipped with greenhouses and gardens we are investigating in search of xenodiversity, that component of biodiversity made up of alien organisms, that is, those not native to the investigated territory. Our area of research is terrestrial and freshwater mollusks, which includes species often introduced quite accidentally by transporting soil or exotic plants. Usually to find specimens we use the classic sampling methods used for soil fauna, i.e. visual search, collecting soil and litter for examination in the laboratory.”

Andrea Benocci, curator of the Museum of Natural History Accademia dei Fisiocritici, describes the discovery of Barkeriella museensis as follows, “Both in Trento and in other cities in Italy, we have found numerous alien species, some of which have never been reported before in Europe. But at MUSE, in particular, we discovered this tropical snail, hitherto unknown to science-a quite exceptional find. One of the peculiarities is that the reproductive apparatus of this species is equipped with three different ducts (each of which opens independently) in charge of gamete exchange: a condition so far never observed in terrestrial mollusks, which generally have two.”

This is not the first time MUSE has contributed to the identification of new species around the world, but it is the first time it has become a territory of discovery. As Massimo Bernardi, head of Research and Collections at MUSE, explains, “MUSE, in the last decade, through its research activities has led to the discovery of about 50 species as the outcome of territorial exploration. More than 700 holotypes, that is, the reference specimens for the description of new species, are preserved in our collections. This time, however, MUSE becomes a place of research, proving that it is not necessary to go too far to discover new biodiversity: usually news of new species comes to us from places with a high concentration of biodiversity such as the tropics or only partially explored such as the ocean floor. In reality, there is biodiversity to be discovered all around us, even in the places we think we know best, like a handful of potting soil in a tropical museum greenhouse frequented by thousands of people each year.”

New species of snail discovered--in a museum! The story of Barkeriella museensis
New species of snail discovered--in a museum! The story of Barkeriella museensis

Warning: the translation into English of the original Italian article was created using automatic tools. We undertake to review all articles, but we do not guarantee the total absence of inaccuracies in the translation due to the program. You can find the original by clicking on the ITA button. If you find any mistake,please contact us.