Technology & Science

Endangered giant pink slugs found alive after Australia bushfires

Australian wildlife officials say dozens of endangered slugs found only at the top of an extinct volcano have survived the bushfires that ripped through their habitat.

Slugs 'may not be as cute as koalas' but they play an important role in ecosystem, wildlife service says

This Mount Kaputar slug was spotted by a ranger after a recent rainfall in Mount Kaputar National Park. Wildlife officials had feared for the species after fires ripped through its alpine habitat. (National Parks and Wildlife Service)

Australian wildlife officials say dozens of endangered slugs found only at the top of an extinct volcano have survived the bushfires that ripped through their habitat.

About 60 Mount Kaputar slugs, also called Kaputar pink slugs because of their striking colour, were spotted by rangers after a recent rainfall following the bushfires. The New South Wales Parks and Wildlife Service posted the "positive news" on its Facebook page over the weekend, noting there "had been fears for this unusual species."

They're also huge for slugs, growing as long as 20 centimetres.

"They may not be as cute as koalas or wallabies, but this species also plays an important role in its ecosystem," the post said.

Despite some survivors, around 90 per cent of the slug population is estimated to have been killed by the fires, as they shelter in bark and trees, Australian Museum biologist and snail specialist Frank Kohler told The Guardian

He said those that survived probably did so by hiding in rock crevices.

The slugs typically hide under woody debris, loose rocks and leaf litter during dry conditions. On rainy nights, they climb tree trunks to heights up to six storeys to feed on micro-algae and fungi on bark and rocks, says a description on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species website.

The Mount Kaputar slug was listed as endangered in 2014, and was already close to the threshold for being critically endangered at that time due to its limited range. Its population was unknown.

The slug is one of nine species of land snails found only on the summit of the mountain and nowhere else on Earth, according to the Australian Museum.

Extinction threat from climate change

Even before the recent fires, biologists had already noted that human-caused climate change was likely to put this species "at very high risk of extinction in the near future" and not just due to more frequent fires.

The slug's IUCN listing notes that it already occupies the highest parts of Mount Kaputar, so it can't move to higher elevations, and warming at lower elevations will reduce the area of its habitat.

Grazing feral pigs that damage the slugs' habitat and may also eat them are listed as another threat.

Mount Kaputar National Park is closed to visitors until Feb. 28 due to fire damage.

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