Keerthi and I were stationed at the beautiful campus of the Kerala Veterinary University, nestled between verdant rolling Shola-covered hills of the Western Ghats. Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary was best accessed from the KVU campus and we found extremely comfortable rooms at the guesthouse (hot water and an electric kettle were luxuries beyond wildest imaginations). Additionally, the campus is also home to injured, sick, rehabilitated wildlife that the authorities bestow with appropriate medical care and human love. So, you have civets (Viverridae family), a bonnet macaque (Macaca radiata) baby, a Malabar Giant Squirrel (Ratufa indica), male Sambar deer (Rusa unicolor), Spotted deer (Axis axis) fawn and the enigmatic Indian giant flying squirrel (Petaurista philippensis). I almost regretted not having studied medicine and becoming a veterinarian, and not for the first time.
One night, we were making our way down the winding road to get to a restaurant. Keerthi sat in the front of the jeep keeping her eyes peeled for suicidal frogs. Suddenly, she shouted, "Stop stop stop!!!" bringing the jeep to a skidding, screeching halt. She jumped out and ran up the hill like a madwoman. Stomach rumbling with hunger I grabbed the sampling kit and started to follow her, buoyed by the hopes of finding a cool new frog, perhaps a Microhylid or the Burrowing Frog. When I reached her, she was in a state of frenzied excitement. Her speech was garbled and sounded like her native tongue, Tamil - "Ella ampu ella". I looked at her quizzically, thinking that the incessant frog hunting had finally taken a toll on her. Finally, after a deep breath, she repeated, "Indrella ampulla. Endemic snail." Looking down, I saw one of the most beautiful snails I have ever seen in my lifetime. A large pale yellow foot bordered with white and the most exquisite black spiraled flat shell was crossing the road, leaving a distinctive snail-mucus trail. I gazed in wonderment at this marvelous piece of art that was determined to cross the tar road in stubborn defiance of Keerthi's efforts to relocate it to safety on the other side. We left it, hoping against hope it would survive any traffic headed its way. Fortunately, we found no traces of road-kill on our return, so I guess the snail must have reached its destination safely.
Indrella ampulla is the only species belonging to the genus Indrella. It is a terrestrial snail inhabiting regions at moderate elevations in the tropics. You must google up the snail, if you haven’t already.
The next Indrella ampulla I encountered was in Karnataka. I was volunteering again on the project with Keerthi. This time around, we were accompanying a 'fish team' that consisted of a motley crowd of fish taxonomists, a molecular biologist, hobbyists and an employee of the fisheries department. The second sighting of the snail was a stroke of luck, and special because I spotted it while we were in a moving car. Car stopped, Keerthi and I bounded out and looked in amazement at the mollusk. Instead of the pale yellow, the foot was a bright tomato red! It was impossible to miss. Fantabulous! Later, Keerthi spotted another while we were scouring the reeds for frogs next to a stream. We were in sandals, not the smartest choice of footwear when you are in a place infested with leeches! Leech complaints aside, if you belong to the train of thought that snails are 'yucky', I beg you, check out the super cool Indrella ampulla. A snail that dazzles the onlooker with its sheer beauty and exquisite looks…You will definitely fall in love with this cutey-crawley.
Here's an interesting article on Snails of Karnataka by Aravind Madhyastha:
Ramblings on wildlife sharing spaces with non-wild humans