In what may be the oddest honor of the year, scientists in Taiwan have named a newly discovered hermaphroditic land snail in honor of same-sex marriage.
The snails, named Aegista diversifamilia, native to eastern Taiwan, were long thought to be members of another species, named A. subchinesis. But in 2003, researchers noticed physical differences between the snails east and west of Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range: Those east of the mountain range have bigger, flatter shells than their more conformist A. subchinesis counterparts to the west.
Following up on this observation, Ph.D. candidate Chih-Wei Huang at National Taiwan Normal University studied the snails’ molecular markers and morphology, and the verdict was in: It’s a new species.
The researchers published the study Monday in the open-access journal ZooKeys. Taiwan and many other parts of the world have been struggling for equality in marriage rights. This inspired the researchers, while they were preparing their manuscript, to pick the snail’s name. Aegista diversifamilia translates to “the diverse forms of human families.” It is particularly fitting because the snails are hermaphroditic animals, meaning they all have both male and female reproductive organs.
“They represent the diversity of sex orientation in the animal kingdom,” said Yen-Chen Lee of Academia Sinica in Taipei in the research 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,” said Lee, who was one of the first to notice the snails’ physical distinction.
The newly dubbed, albeit sluggish, mascot could be seen as an oddly apt, optimistic representation for the same-sex marriage struggle: Slow and steady wins the race.