A new species of hermaphrodite land snail found in Taiwan has been named in support of marriage equality. Biologists, referring to a diversity of family types, christened the species Aegista diversifamilia, because it “represents the diversity of sex orientation in the animal kingdom”. The snail is largely found throughout eastern Taiwan, but was previously mistaken for a closely related species.

“When we were preparing the manuscript, it was a period when Taiwan and many other countries and states were struggling for the recognition of same-sex marriage rights,” said Dr Yen-Chang Lee, who first suggested the snail might entail its own species. “It reminded us that Pulmonata land snails are hermaphrodite animals, which means they have both male and female reproductive organs in a single individual. “We decided that maybe this is a good occasion to name the snail to remember the struggle for the recognition of same-sex marriage rights.”

Same sex marriage is currently not legal in Taiwan, and the Parliament’s judiciary committee has stalled bill in the government proposing to legalize same-sex marriage since October 2013. A recent rally in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in the country attracted thousands.

Dr Lee is from Academia Sinica in Taipei, and noticed in 2003 that land snails of the established species Aegista subchinensis seemed to be markedly different on the eastern side of Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range. Together with researchers from the National Taiwan Normal University, Dr Lee then conducted a detailed study of the shape of the animals as well as molecular markers. The new diversifamilia species, from the east of the mountains, has a larger, flatter shell and is in fact more closely related to a land snail from Ishigaki Island in Japan.

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