Massive, neon-pink slugs can only be found atop of Mount Kaputar, an extinct volcano in northern New South Wales.
The small alpine forest at the peak of Mount Kaputar, in northern NSW, is home to a fascinating ecosystem, but nothing seems as amazing as its most famous residents — neon-pink slugs that can grow to a whopping length of 20 centimetres (8 inches).
These festively coloured slugs (Triboniophorus aff. graeffei) are relations of the equally quirky red triangle slug, which is also found on Mount Kaputar. They are among a number of unique species marooned 1500m above sea level on the extinct volcano near the township of Narrabri.
Michael Murphy, a park ranger at Mount Kaputar National Park, says on mornings after rain you can sometimes see hundreds making their way back down the trees after a night foraging for lichen and moss.
The slug's huge size is a family trait says Michael, a trained biologist whose speciality is land snails, but he also puts it down to the abundant food and lack of predation in their wet 10 sq km (3.9 sq mi) patch of habitat.
"Scientists already knew that a bright-pink slug lived on Mount Kaputar , thinking it was a variety of the red triangle slug, a species common along the east coast of Australia. But new research shows that the colorful critter is actually its own species..."
“Recent morphological and genetics work by a researcher working on this slug family—the Athorcophoridae—has indicated the Kaputar slugs are a unique species endemic to Mount Kaputar and the only representative of this family in inland Australia,” said Michael, who’s been stationed on Mount Kaputar for 20 years.
Only discovered a few years ago, the slugs have maintained a low profile due to their remote location Michael says.
"There are more land snails listed as threatened, endangered or extinct by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) than birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish put together,"
'The pink slug had gone unstudied for so long because Australian slug and snail researchers—known as malacologists—are far outnumbered by their koala-investigating brethren, Murphy said.
'Their research on the new slug will likely be submitted for publication soon, he added.
Their damp, canopied patch, which is also home to the Kaputar hairy snail, the Kaputar cannibal snail and a dozen other important species, is on its way to becoming Australia's first land-snail habitat to be declared an endangered ecological community. It's something that should bring some attention to the impact of climate change on mountain invertebrates, says Michael.
The ecosystem atop Mount Kaputar hangs in a delicate balance, and a temperature increase of only one or two degrees has the potential to dry up the mountain’s peculiar residents.
And why pink you ask?
"There's one idea that the pink colour camouflages them against the colour of fallen snow gum leaves on the forest floor," says Michael. "But then again they spend a lot of their time way up in the canopy nowhere near the floor... so it might just be that if you're a giant slug way up on an isolated mountain top, you can be whatever colour you like."