SNAILS are not often the subject of headlines. That’s also true for the Isle of Wight, an island in the English Channel, a few miles south of Hampshire (shown on the map). At high tide it’s the smallest county in England, although one could argue that the City of London holds that honor.
Nevertheless, snails living in this usually inconspicuous location are currently making a bit of news in science circles. In the Isle of Wight County Press we read Snails unique to Isle of Wight? Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:
A UNIQUE colony of snails has been discovered thriving in salty conditions on the Island.
The large colony live among maritime plants and chalk rubble in a very small and rare micro-environment on the Island’s south coast, exposed to sea spray, which would cause the common garden snail to shrivel up.
Peter Cosier, an amateur naturalist, said: “I believe these snails have evolved as a distinct sub-species to live in this very hostile salt-laden micro-environment, where the white shells and pale bodies camouflage them from predators.
Egad! Evolution in England? This is an outrage! Let’s read on:
[Still quoting Peter Cosier:] “If this is the case, it is a splendid example of Darwin’s theories, perhaps even equal to examples on the Galapagos Islands.
“I can find no account of this attractive and dramatic form of snail being recorded before and believe it could be quite unique to the Isle of Wight.”
The Galapagos Islands had more than one example of speciation, but that’s okay. The naturalist’s enthusiasm is understandable. We continue:
The snails have been identified by the Natural History Museum, London, as a form of the common garden snail (helix aspersa) and Mr Cosier has searched the chalk downland for similar snails near his home in Kent.
“I thought the thicker shells of the Isle of Wight snails might be the result of a calcium-rich diet. I have found no examples here of the thicker shells, let alone the colour change.”
One more excerpt:
Dr Colin Pope, Isle of Wight Council senior ecology officer, said: “It is fitting that Mr Cosier, on the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, should have discovered a snail that so wonderfully demonstrates Darwin’s theory of evolution.“
There’s a bit more to the article, including a picture of some of the snails. Click over and take a look.
Maybe Darwin didn’t need to take that long voyage on the Beagle. All he had to do was visit some islands closer to home.
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