Restricted to the wet forests and cool temperate rainforests of the Otway Ranges in southern Victoria, the Otway Black Snail (Victaphanta compacta) is a bit of a local icon. You see, what makes it super special is that it is a terrestrial carnivorous pulmonated gastropod mollusc! Kinda cool, but what does it mean?
Simply put, the Otway Black Snail is a land snail that eats other invertebrates (carnivorous), breathes air with specialised lungs (pulmonated), uses its belly as a foot to get around, and belongs to the large mollusc family having soft, unsegmented bodies. Although carnivorous (feeding on other snails, slugs, earthworms and insect larvae), the Otway Black Snail is not cannibalistic, and not a threat to the big toe of a bushwalker. The Otway Black Snail is one of five species of carnivorous snails in the Otway Ranges, but the only endemic one (living nowhere else).
Unfortunately, this impressively glossy black-shelled snail is under threat of population decline and has therefore been listed under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act as ‘vulnerable’. The Otway Black Snail is threatened by loss of suitable habitat as a result of land clearing activities (including timber harvesting and road construction) and Myrtle Wilt disease. The snail requires a moist environment, vulnerable to desiccation in times of severe drought and in areas where canopy trees have been removed, allowing light and heat to reach the forest floor.
The Wilderlands Crowes Lookout project at Lavers Hill in the Otway Ranges is a refuge for the Otway Black Snail, providing ideal habitat within the biotic-rich leaf litter beneath the tall eucalypts and tree ferns. Protected from future land clearing or damaging activities, Crowes Lookout will forever serve as an important piece in the long-term survival of this vulnerable snail – an icon of the Otway Ranges.
Chris Lindorff, Wilderlands Chief Ecologist, is an experienced ecologist and land manager with a degree in Science, and Forest Science, from University of Melbourne.