Publication update 17: Kenyirus sheema – a new land snail species from an old rainforest

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Holotype of the new species Kenyirus sheema. Foon, Tan and Clements, 2015.

The Belum-Temengor Rainforest Complex (BTFC) in the State of Perak covers a cross section of Peninsular Malaysia’s terrestrial ecosystems from lowland rainforests at the foothills to tropical montane cloud forests in the highlands. This 300 sq km of wilderness is home to healthy populations of mammalian megafauna including the critically endangered Malayan Tiger, Panthera tigris jacksoni. In fact, the remarkable state of ecosystem preservation in BTFC makes it one of the most critical regions in Peninsular Malaysia for the conservation of almost every group of rainforest flora and fauna. However, it was a cherry-sized snail that particularly caught the attention of Reuben, during one of his routine mammal surveys in BTFC one morning in February 2009.

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The Belum-Temengor Forest Complex

Featuring a porcelain-white shiny shell with striking maroon-pink bands on its basal whorl, the colourful snail was unlike any other known in Malaysia or indeed, Southeast Asia! This snail just exclaimed “NEW SPECIES” like no other new snail species could! The discovery caught the excitement of the malacological world when Reuben shared his find with his colleagues Kelvin, Tan Siong Kiat and others. This was especially so because the sub-globular shape of the shell and the dimple-like structure at its last whorl bear an uncanny resemblance to a group of tree snails called the Papunids (of the family Camaenidae), which are restricted to Australia and Papua New Guinea. No one had anticipated that such a snail could be discovered in Malaysia!

To describe this unique new species, Kelvin, Siong and Reuben teamed up and searched the literature for the snail’s closest relatives. This snail turned out to be most similar to yet another surprising new species found by Reuben several years before in 2006! Kenyirus sodhii from Tasik Kenyir’s rainforests appears to be the most similar in several shell characters. After some detailed comparison of shell features, we concluded that the new species from Belum should be placed under the genus Kenyirus. We then decided to name the species Kenyirus sheema, after Rimba’s co-founder Sheema, who led the creation of the first management plan for Royal Belum State Park in BTFC. The paper was published in the Journal of Tropical Biology and Conservation.

The discovery of Kenyirus sheema has yet again brought home the message to everyone that despite over centuries of biological research in Malaysia, we still have much more to discover and learn about these majestic natural landscapes and their inhabitants.

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