Georissa mawsmaiensis, a new snail species, was recently found in Mawsmai, a limestone cave in Meghalaya, 170 years after the previous such finding.
WH Benson collected and described Georissa saritta, a member of the same genus as the recent specimen, from the Musmai (Mawsmai now) valley near Cherrapunjee in 1851.
The finding was published in the Journal of Conchology this time. Nipu Kumar Das and NA Aravind of Bengaluru’s Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) were engaged in the finding.
The biologists, on the other hand, are concerned that the large number of tourists visiting the cave would pose a serious danger to the species.
The Mawsmai cave is one of Meghalaya’s most popular tourist destinations. Artificial lights, as well as a cemented floor and stairs, have been added to improve the cave’s looks. These changes, along with the huge visitor inflow, might put this micro snail species, as well as other cave faunas, in jeopardy.
Meghalaya is well-known for its caverns, which attract a large number of visitors. According to the tourist website for Meghalaya,
The caverns of Meghalaya are created when water meets limestone and sandstone, producing strange forms and eco-systems under our feet that hide stunning structures, uncommon animals, and millions of year old fossils.
“We’re still learning about these complicated cave systems,” it continues, “and many places have yet to be explored at all.” Every year during the dry season, experienced spelunkers and properly prepared explorers forge into the underground frontiers on Meghalaya’s southern border.”
Approximately 1,700 caves have been identified in Meghalaya to far, with many more still to be found. According to researchers, only the Siju cave’s wildlife has been well-documented, while investigations on other caves have been restricted.
Georissa species may be found in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, and have been documented from all three continents. They are, however, restricted to microhabitats consisting of limestone caves or karst landscapes created by limestone dissolution.
Georissa may be found in soil or underground environments in both lowland tropical and high altitude evergreen forests, as well as on calcium-rich rock surfaces.
During a field assessment of Mawsmai in the first week of August 2018, Das and Aravind gathered Georissa samples. Specimens were obtained around 4-5 metres inside the cave entrance on the surface of damp limestone rocks. With the exception of a few artificial lights, the cave was pitch black.
They next compared their specimen to G saritta Benson’s 1851 photographs. The images were supplied to them by Tom White of the Natural History Museum in London.
Das said that the new species differed from Georissa sarrita in terms of shell morphology, ranging from shell size variation to the presence of four pronounced spiral striations on the shell’s body whorls.
“In Georissa sarrita, there are seven spiral striations counted from the suture to the aperture in apertural view,” he stated.
This area of India, according to Das and Aravind, is underexplored despite its abundant biodiversity. They stated that a more thorough examination of limestone caves in Meghalaya and other regions of India might produce intriguing snail fauna, including numerous new Georissa species.
The caverns of Meghalaya have been home to five different kinds of cave snails. There might be additional species still to be discovered. More than 100 species have been documented in Southeast Asia, where comparable caves exist.
The Mawsmai cave is located in Mawsmai, a tiny town in the East Khasi Hills area of Meghalaya, about four kilometres from Cherrapunjee (Sohra). In the Khasi language, the name ‘Mawsmai’ means ‘Oath Stone.’ The cave is referred to as ‘Krem’ by the Khasi people.
The Kynshi river, which originates in the East Khasi Hills, has an indirect impact on Mawsmai cave, which is situated at a height of 1,195 metres above sea level.