A small computer backpack adorns the shell of this pink wolf snail.

Inhee lee

Using a small computer the size of a pencil eraser, scientists discovered how a native arboreal snail species managed to survive a vicious predator that wiped out 50 other snail species in the South Pacific.

The French authorities who ruled the South Pacific Society Islands introduced this predator, the pink wolf snail, in 1974 in an attempt to curb the spread of the giant African snail that had previously been introduced as a food source, according to The Guardian. The actions of the pink wolf snail are less than pink, despite its nickname. It moves faster than most snails and voraciously attack and eats snails and slugs.

The Society Islands are a group of islands that are home to hundreds of endemic animal species, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Of the 61 tree-dwelling snail species native to the islands before the pink wolf came to town, Partula hyalina is one of five that survived in the wild.

So how did the white-shelled P. hyalina escape the clutches of its predator? In a new study published Tuesday in the journal Communications Biology, scientists at the University of Michigan reveal their answer.

“We were able to get data that nobody could get,” said David Blaauw, co-leader of the team that developed the Michigan Micro Mote, or M3, the computer used in the study. “And that’s because we had a little computer system that was small enough to stick to a snail.”

UM scientists hypothesized in 2015 that P. hyalina was able to persist in sunny forest edge habitats by coating a shell that reflected rather than absorbed levels of light radiation that would kill its shell-like counterparts. darker. Their study required them to track the levels of light exposure that both snail species experienced over a typical day, which led them to join forces with the UM engineers who created the M3. . The inventors call their M3 “the smallest computer in the world”.

The M3 system had an energy recuperator that allowed it to recharge its battery using tiny solar cells. For the study, snail detectives measured light levels by measuring how quickly the battery charged.

On the island of Tahiti, which is part of the Society Islands, researchers glued M3s directly to the shells of pink snails. P. hyalina is a protected species, so scientists did not place M3s directly on their shells. Instead, they used magnets to place M3s on the top and bottom of the leaves where they rested. They found that P. hyalina was regularly exposed to significantly higher levels of solar radiation in its forest edge habitats than that endured by the predator.

This is not the last hurray for the M3. It is also being used by the University of Michigan in a project that aims to track the migration routes of monarch butterflies. In the meantime, the Partulas will continue to roam the archipelago thanks to their pale and sunny shells.

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