Australia’s biggest snail, the size of a tennis ball
The giant panda snail— Australia's biggest snail, dates back all the way to the Gondwana age but don't be confused by the 'panda' in its name.
WHILE HARDLY comparing to the monstrous size of Africa’s giant land snail (Lissachatina fulica), our native giant panda snail (Hedleyella falconeri) will nonetheless make your skin crawl. The snail is a member of the ancient family of Caryodidae, a family which dates back to the Gondwana age— a time when Australia was still attached to Antarctica and India.
With its large, wet brown foot the giant panda snails slime network can be easily detected along the dewy scapes of south Gympie in Queensland, through to the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.
Nourished by Australia’s sub-tropical rainforests and its delicious forest fungi the shell of the snail can grow to match the size of a tennis ball.
John Stanisic, who often goes by the title of the ‘Snail Whisperer’, told Australian Geographic that he often refers to the giant panda snail as the ‘King of the Rainforest.’ “The species is a magnificent example of Australia's snail fauna which is estimated to be about 2500 species strong,” John said. “And it [panda snail] certainly is imperious.”
The snail was discovered in 1834 and was first described by John Gray who at the time was the curator of molluscs at the British Museum, now known as the Natural History Museum. John explained that these records suggest that the giant panda snail is one of Australia’s earliest described land snails.
The giant panda snail. (Image Credit: Will's Wildlife Kingdom)
Where does the giant panda snail get its name from?
The ‘panda’ in the snails name, rather than being descriptive of the snail’s physicality or behaviour, is simply a scientific mix-up. John explained that the word panda was incorrectly applied to the snail in 1860.
“Tom Iredale, who was for many years the curator of molluscs at the Australian Museum in Sydney picked up the error and in 1914 introduced the replacement name Hedleyella after his friend and noted fellow malacologist, Charles Hedley,” John said, adding, “Unfortunately, there is no record as to why the name panda was first applied to the snail but it has managed to become part of its common name.”
Recordings of the giant panda snail by John Gray and Tom Iredale. (Image Credit: Wikicommons)