Vargapupa biheli

Vargapupa biheli. Image courtesy Dr. Barna Páll-Gergely.

The Name

What do snails have in common with the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL)? There are many pages of information available about snails that have been digitized and can be found in the BHL, but the newly discovered Vargapupa biheli honored the BHL in its name, biheli. Not only is Vargapupa biheli a new species, but the genus Vargapupa is also new! This work was completed by a team of biologists. The lead author on the published study, Dr. Barna Páll-Gergley, is a biologist at Shinsu University in Japan. He is a frequent and appreciative user of BHL and he is so appreciative, that in naming the new snail, he wrote:

The new species is named after the Biodiversity Heritage Library ( to thank the multitude of rare literature made available to us. The name “biheli” is an acronym derived from the name BIodiversity HEritage LIbrary.

While the species name honors the BHL, the genus is dedicated to András Varga, a Hungarian malacologist and friend of the authors. His contributions to Vietnamese malacofauna are very substantial. The genus Vargapupa is the combination of his last name, Varga, and “pupa,” which refers to the snail’s shell. “Pupa” is derived from Latin and refers to the way that ancient people used to swaddle their infants.

Discovering a New Species

The discovery of Vargapupa biheli began when Páll-Gergely’s friend, Andras Hunyadi, brought him Pseudopomatias specimens that had been collected in Vietnam. Hunyadi thought they might be a new species, so Páll-Gergely began his investigation on the genus. It led him to a text, written in 1953, by Edmond Saurin, a French geologist and archaeologist. The only information there was that Saurin had collected Pseudopomatias fulvus from Laos. There was little written about the snail, so the next step was to view the Pseudopomatias fulvus specimen from the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle. Once Páll-Gergely saw the snail, he knew that it was a new species. Vargapupa differs from Pseudopomatias in that it has unique keels on its shells. These keels are absent in Pseudopomatias, which warranted the new genus.

Much work remains to be done to learn more about this new species. Because all of the information used to define the species was from museum specimens, its ecology needs to be explored.

The Discoverer

Dr. Barna Páll-Gergely. Image courtesy of Dr. Barna Páll-Gergely.
Lead author, Dr. Barna Páll-Gergely is a biologist at the Shinshu University in Japan. His love of mollusks began at a young age. When he was five he collected shells. By secondary school, he had already begun studying land snails, on which he has continued to focus.  

Did You Know?

The snail from the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle that was used to describe the new genus and species has a story of its own. The writings of Edmond Saurin were not only helpful to Páll-Gergely, but also to Dr. Philippe Bouchet in the 1970s'. Bouchet came across some of Saurin’s articles that described 210 new species of Pyramidellidae, but the holotypes were nowhere to be found.

Bouchet—eventually finding an old address of Saurin’s—wrote to inquire about the specimens. His letter was responded to by Madame Saurin who told him that her husband had passed away, but that he was welcome to come by and look through the attic for the specimens.

A few months later, Bouchet paid Madame Saurin a visit. The mansion’s attic was filled with many boxes and cabinets, and there was no guarantee that the snails would be there. Nevertheless, Bouchet was able to find the specimens in only a few minutes. Along with those specimens were a collection of land snails, the very ones that led to the new species! All the specimens were wrapped in newspaper that was scribbled with place names and other information. Madame Saurin graciously donated all of the specimens to the museum. Without them, Páll-Gergley would not have been able to name a snail after the BHL!

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