Snails for Same-Sex Marriage

CC BY 3.0. Chih-Wei Huang

Thirteen years ago, the Netherlands kick-started the legalization of same sex marriages. Since then, fifteen countries have followed suit with the urging of gay pride parades and the general public. Now, scientists from Taiwan have found a new way of encouraging political action: naming a newly identified species of snail in honor of same-sex marriage.

“It seems like a lovely tribute,” said Rick Rosendall, President of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C., “though I am somewhat reticent because inevitably some confused social conservative will complain that the next thing you know, someone will want to marry his pet snail. As it happens, I have no pet snail, and do not wish to marry one. Thus what began so pleasantly ends up with my having to deny amorous feelings toward gastropods.”

The snail was initially discovered in 2003 when the researchers noticed that snails from the eastern and western sides of Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range had different features. What they initially thought was Aegista subchinesis in the east turned out to be an entirely different species, which they named Aegista diversifamilia.

The process of identifying a new species is lengthy, so it wasn’t until this week that A. diversifamilia was announced to the world. The snail has a larger, flatter shell than its western Neighbours, A. subchinesis, and is hermaphroditic – displaying both male and female sexual organs – prompting its name, which means ‘the diverse form of families.’

There are a number of species in the animal kingdom that are hemaphroditic or who engage in homo-sexual partnerships. Many invertebrates are hermaphrodites as are numerous species of fish and snails. Dogs, elephants, barn owls dolphins and penguins (including a pair of male penguins who hatched an egg together) have been documented to have homo-sexual partners. In total, more than 1500 species have been identified in non male-female relationships. A. diversifamilia is just the latest find.

“[A. diversifamilia] represent the diversity of sex orientation in the animal kingdom,” said one of the lead researchers Yen-Chen Lee of Academia Sinica in Taipei in a press release. “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.”

This gesture comes at a time when the Taiwanese government has shelved a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

“Happily, the progress in some countries toward marriage equality has been much faster than a snail's pace,” said Rosendall. “Given the "diversity of sexual orientation in the animal kingdom," as Dr. Lee put it, one could add a new verse to the Cole Porter classic:
Bi-curious whales do it, quails do it,
New hermaphroditic snails do it.
Let's do it, let's fall in love.”