An enormous bright pink slug that was only discovered a few years ago has miraculously survived the wave of bushfires that have engulfed Australia over the last several months.
The New South Wales National Parks & Wildlife Service confirmed that about 60 of the uniquely hued slugs are alive and well in the only place they call home — a single mountaintop in New South Wales.
There had been fears for this unusual species after fire impacted much of its alpine habitat. They may not be as cute as koalas or wallabies, but this species also plays an important role in its ecosystem. The park currently remains closed to visitors due to fire damage.
As the Facebook page of the national park group explained, it was a celebratory moment in the midst of a bleak time, as they didn't know if this endemic species could survive the heat. Apparently, they did so by hiding in rock crevices, Australian Museum malacologist Frank Köhler told The Guardian. Though most of the population did not survive the fires, those that did will help the species recover quickly.
Where the wild life is ... different
Australia is home to some of the world’s most unique wildlife, from flightless birds capable of disemboweling a man to giant glow-in-dark earthworms. In 2013, this brightly colored creature was added to that list.
Locals had long reported seeing the bizarre 8-inch slugs after rainfall, but taxonomists verified that Triboniophorus aff. graeffei is unique to the alpine forest of Mount Kaputar, a 5,000-foot peak in New South Wales.
"As bright pink as you can imagine, that's how pink they are," Michael Murphy, a ranger with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation at the time. "On a good morning, you can walk around and see hundreds of them, but only in that one area."
Scientists believe the slugs are survivors from an era when eastern Australia was home to rainforests. The creatures probably would have died out if a volcano hadn’t erupted in the area millions of years ago.
"The result of that eruption is a high-altitude haven for invertebrates and plant species that have been isolated for millions of years, after Australia dried out and the rainforests receded," according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
At night, the slugs crawl up trees to feed on mold and moss, and while their bright pink coloration might seem detrimental to their survival, scientists say the fluorescent hue is actually beneficial. Fallen eucalyptus leaves are red and help hide the organism from predators.
Giant, hot pink slugs aren’t the only strange creatures on Mount Kaputar — there are also three species of cannibal snails that survived the fires but are expected to take longer to recover.
"They're voracious little fellas," Murphy said of the snails. "They hunt around on the forest floor to pick up the slime trail of another snail, then hunt it down and gobble it up."
Editor update: This story has been updated since it was first published in May 2013.