Thailand’s ‘living glow stick’ snail named mollusc of the year

BANGKOK: Thailand’s first bioluminescent snail that has a continuous glow won the title of “International Mollusc of the Year 2024” in an online public vote held in April.

More than 50% of the 6,000-plus participants chose the mollusc.

The annual competition was launched in 2021 by Germany’s Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics and Unitas Malacologica, the international society for mollusc research, to raise awareness about the enormous biodiversity of molluscs and to promote their conservation.

The organisers described the “living glow stick” mollusc (Phuphania crossei) as “an air-breathing land snail found only in the tropical forests of Thailand. It takes its name from the Phu Phan mountains in the northeast of the country. Its special feature is that it constantly produces its own bioluminescent light, emitting a greenish glow like a living glow stick.

“At first glance, Phuphania crossei is a normal-looking snail, with a yellowish-brown body and a dark grey head with eyes on stalks. Its shell is brownish with distinct ribs. However, even in daylight and without stimulation, its greenish glow is visible to the human eye. The glow is produced by light cells on the foot and the mantle. The snail can switch off this glow temporarily.”

Dr Athit Pholyotha, a biology researcher at Chulalongkorn University who was part of the team that discovered the snail last year, said that luminescence is rare in terrestrial snails.

“Previously, the only known terrestrial mollusc to be luminescent was Quantula striata, which was discovered in Singapore by Japanese researcher Yata Haneda in 1942,” he said.

“The glow stick snail is therefore Thailand’s first bioluminescent terrestrial snail. It was found around the limestone mountains in Saraburi’s Kaeng Khoi district.”

He said that unlike the Quantula striata, a terrestrial snail that can be found in Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, the Philippines, Fiji and some islands in the Riau archipelago, Phuphania crossei can emit its greenish glow continuously.

He added that the discovery of this rare glowing snail is proof of the rich biodiversity in Thailand’s ecological system that is waiting to be studied.

Asst Prof Piyoros Tongkerd, who is also part of the research team, said the next step for the team will be to map the snail’s genome, which can then be cross-analysed with those of other bioluminescent molluscs to better understand its evolution.

She added that researchers from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Science and Faculty of Medicine are working together to study the medical benefits of the mucin produced by snails.

“Studying the snail’s genome will help us identify the protein that snails use to produce mucin, which can lead to the development of highly efficient medical supplies in the future,” she said.

Snail mucin is currently being used in anti-ageing skin products. - The Nation/ANN

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