By Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer | February 23, 2017 07:24am ET
A new species of cave-dwelling land snail from Brazil recently received a scientific name that recalls its subterranean habitat in a uniquely geeky way. Scientists named the tiny mollusk after the character Shar, the goddess of caverns, darkness and secrets, from the popular role-playing tabletop game Dungeons & Dragons.
Researchers discovered a variety of land snails and freshwater snails while conducting a survey of caves in central Brazil, including a diminutive new species, which they dubbed Gastrocopta sharae.
"It's a fitting name for a tiny snail that lives hidden in the dark recesses of a cavern," the study authors said in a statement.
For the most part, snails that live in Brazil are poorly understood and are not widely studied — compared to the number of known mollusk species, as many three times that number may remain to be discovered, the researchers wrote in the study.
Cave systems are notable for their biodiversity, but they are also exceptionally fragile, particularly in central Brazil, where ecosystems are threatened by climate change and human activity. To protect mollusk diversity in underground grottos, conservationists first need to know what species are living there, the study authors explained.