The Natural World: On the trail of the Vietnamese snail

I'm scrabbling through the soil, picking through the vegetation and scouring beneath the rocks for snails. As curator of molluscs this isn't unusual, but this time I'm in the middle of a tropical rainforest in northern Vietnam, 120km south-west of Hanoi. It is over 30C, humid, and I'm pretty sure I've just been bitten by another blood-sucking leech – but I think I have the best job in the world.

We are searching in Cuc Phuong National Park for terrestrial molluscs, slugs and snails. The aim of the trip is to collaborate with local research partners and help to develop land snail expertise in South and South-east Asia, but also to establish or enhance reference collections to help local scientists to study the molluscan fauna.

We have come to this site as it is located on two limestone mountain ranges. Calcium from limestone is important for shell development, hence the wonderfully rich diversity and abundance of molluscs. The rocks in front of me are covered in a flat, almost limpet-like land snail that has caused a stir. No one is quite sure yet what group of snails this animal belongs to but it is definitely an exciting find and we are looking forward to investigating it further back at the Natural History Museum.

I spend almost an hour picking micro molluscs off the limestone rock face with a pin before I look up and realise that the view is breathtaking. This is my first time in a tropical rainforest and the thing that strikes me is the depth and variety of green. In one direction lies a small coastal town next to a the ocean and in the other a huge patchwork of green agricultural land and forests of all ages and hues. It's easy to get sucked into your work on trips like this, and it's amazing to sit back and absorb the beautiful and fragile habitat.

Earlier in the day we were stopped by a group of young women who seemed interested in our work. It was very flattering to have a group of ladies watching my every move until my Vietnamese colleagues translated that they were bewildered by my pale and untanned skin rather than my macho jungle man actions, and had christened me "limestone man".

Vietnam may be full of blood-sucking creatures and women who gawp at me for my pale skin, but it has beautifully rich and diverse habitats full of important and interesting plants and animals, and I'll take on a leech any day to come back here again.

Find out about the work of museum scientists at the Natural History Museum's summer exhibition The Deep Sea. Open until 5 September, visitors will discover the extraordinary yet fragile biodiversity that exists in the deep oceans. Find out more at www.nhm.ac.uk

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions