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The smallest Vol: Tiny snail species named after University of Tennessee

A team of researchers has explored caves and subterranean areas for years, looking for new Appalachian species.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A new Vol for Life is coming out of its shell.

A team of researchers -- many of whom are UT alumni -- found the 2-millimeter cave snail lurking not far from Knoxville. The species' official new name is Antrorbis tennesseensis!

Researcher Nicholas Gladstone, UT alumnus and current Auburn doctoral student, said it was a long process. The team worked for several years to submit their findings and get the snail named. 

The researchers have found several new species. To Gladstone, it's rewarding work. 

"We end up finding a lot of new species that are undescribed," Gladstone said. "Many people don't study these ecosystems... it's not everybody's dream job to craw into holes and caves to find snails, but it's an amazing process."

Credit: Nicholas Gladstone
Nicholas Gladstone (left) and Evin Carter (right) examine a subterranean stream.

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Since the researchers have only found a small population of the snails, the species is already listed as critically endangered. But Gladstone said there's good news for the tiny mollusk -- now that it's been officially named, conservation organizations can manage and protect it.

Gladstone said several of the researchers, including UT professor Annette Engel, have traversed Appalachia's cave systems for the better part of the decade. It's not for everybody -- but Gladstone said it was a dream come true.

"If you told 10 year old me that I'd be naming a species, it'd be kind of mind-blowing," Gladstone said.

The team includes UT alumni, faculty, and even an undergraduate student. UT professors Annette Engel, UT alumni Gladstone, Matthew Niemiller, Evin Carter. and UT undergraduate Evelyn Pieper all worked on the project. 

The work was supported by the Cave Conservancy Foundation, an Appalachian environmental foundation.

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