Nature gives us all kinds of colorful animals. But when we think colorful, we probably think of birds or fish, we would hardly ever think snails. In fact, when we think of snails our minds probably jump to those boring brown pests who wreak havoc on our plants and leave those gross little slime trails everywhere.
However, found only in the Malaysian Peninsula, there is a very unique snail that would have many of us changing our minds about snails. The Fire Snail is one of the rarest snail species in the world.
Also known by its scientific name, platymma tweediei, this snail was first discovered in the Telom Valley, of Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands district in 1938. Since its discovery, it has only ever been spotted in Temenggor and Kelantan – but never anywhere else. As a result, conservationist Junn Kitt Foot, with the Universiti Malaysia Sabah, believes that the rare snail is only found within a 100km radius of the Cameron Highlands due to the fact that it can only survive in certain conditions. These snails are only able to live in very cool yet humid climates – specifically cloud rainforests. For anyone who doesn’t know what a cloud rainforest is, it’s a forest that is high enough, usually at least 1,000 meters above sea level, where clouds can form.
The largest native land snail in Peninsular Malaysia, the platymma tweediei, is known for its distinct black shell and a bright red body. That is where it got its name, “fire snail.” The shell of this snail can grow to be as large as 7cm in diameter. Because of its very rare, very beautiful look, it has become a target for snail collectors around the globe – and as a result, it’s extinct.
According to an article in ResearchGate, Junn Kitt Foot states that the there are two reasons for the snail’s decline. The first is that there is massive deforestation happening around the Cameron Highlands where its 100km habituate radius occurs. And the second is because of the lucrative smuggling trade placed on the fire snails by snail collectors selfishly desperate to get their hands on one.
Sadly, these snails are not able to live outside of the cloud forest – the habitat which they are so endemic too. When they are taken outside of their natural habitat, they don’t survive for long. Furthermore, it is impossible to breed them in captivity, meaning that those who do collect them almost always are constantly having to source new snails.
They are definitely beautiful mollusks, however, they should be enjoyed in nature rather than in someone’s private collection. Of course, this still doesn’t stop people from doing the unethical thing, and according to Junn Kitt Foot’s research, fire snails are quite popular amongst those collectors in Germany, Russia, and the UK, but also in Malaysia as well.
Take a look at some of the pictures below:
Anastasia is an American writer and journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. Her Twitter is @AnastasiaArell5.