The mollusc of Monte San Giorgio

The tiny mollusc measures just 1.5 mm (unibas) unibas

A new species of snail has been discovered in Switzerland by researchers at Basel University.

This content was published on May 3, 2003 - 13:40

The tiny mollusc, which measures just 1.5 millimetres, was found in two springs in canton Ticino, in the Italian-speaking part of the country.

"This surprising piece of news clearly shows that the discovery of a new species is not a prerogative of tropical forests or deep in the oceans," said Basel University's department of integrative biology, which carried out the research.

"In a highly urbanised Switzerland, there are still many unknown species."

Named Graziana quadrifoglio, the freshwater snail was discovered on Monte San Giorgio, close to the border with Italy.

The snail gained its particularly musical name from the biologist who is studying the new species.

The researcher is also a music fan and named the snail after the Basel quartet in which he sings.

Second time lucky

But this is not the first time the mollusc has made an appearance. It was discovered during a study of freshwater snails in springs and caves in Ticino in the mid-twentieth century, but was misclassified as a known species.

Using a high-tech electric scanning microscope to study Graziana's anatomy in more detail, researchers found that the snail was actually a new species.

Freshwater snails are not found everywhere - they tend to limit themselves to one valley or even to one spring.

And the fact that springs in their natural state are becoming more rare in Switzerland, makes this discovery even more exciting, said the university.

It explained that the depletion of springs was mainly due to the water being siphoned off by humans, damaging the surrounding flora and fauna.

Researchers are currently investigating whether Graziana is limited to the two springs in which it was found.

Graziana is the latest in a string of discoveries in the area. During the 1980s, eight new species were found in Ticino, usually among the smallest and least often studied insects.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Graziana quadrifoglio is only 1.5mm in size.
It is a freshwater snail - a fairly rare species.
It was found in two springs in Ticino.

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