Given their propensity for a less-than-speedy gait, it's no wonder snails evolved to blend in with their surroundings -- but for one snail in particular, genetics had other things in mind. Recently, while exploring the undergrowth in New Zealand's Kahurangi National Park, a group of hikers made an extraordinary discovery: a giant, albino Powelliphanta snail seeming to cope quite well with its bright-white appearance. The find is so rare, in fact, that even snail experts say this is only the second time they've ever seen anything like it.
The unusual snail was spotted by members of the Waimea Tramping Club on a trek through a forest on New Zealand's South Island. Bill Brough, one of the first to see it, knew immediately they'd stumbled on something very special. "Our group had seen three or four snails already that morning as it had rained and they'd come out in the wet conditions. Then I saw the white snail and went wow! We were excited to see it, knowing how extraordinary it was."
Despite the snail's sub-par attempt at camouflage, standing in stark contrast to the Powelliphanta normally black body coloring, the albino crawler seems to have avoided predators remarkably well. According to snail expert Kath Walker from the Department of Conservation, she's seen this species as albino just once before in 1988, but even that one wasn't quite as white.
"I was curious and interested to see the albino snail as it is exceptional to come across one. From the photos it looks to be an adult snail at least 10 years old and I am amazed it has survived this long. Its white body would make it clearly stand out to be picked off by weka or other predators," says Walker.
Powelliphanta, native to New Zealand, are among the largest snail species on the planet -- though even with normal coloring aren't immune to detection. With the introduction of invasive predators, like rats and possums, in their habitat, the snails have been driven to near extinction, prompting them to be classified as an endangered species.