Victa, a most unlikely predator

Meet one of Australia's strangest carnivores lurking in the ancient rainforest of the Otway Ranges

As you saunter through the primaeval forest at Maits Rest, you might stumble across one of Australia's strangest carnivores, lurking in the shadows beside the track.

It has survived several ice ages, outlived the extinction of Tasmanian Tigers on the mainland and it's unique to the Otway Ranges. It hunts across the forest floor, searching out unsuspecting prey which it snares using long, sharp, backward-pointing teeth - what it is, you ask? Well, you might be surprised when I tell you, that it's a snail.

Otway Black Snail or Victaphanta. Photo, Simon Mustoe, Wildiaries

This isn't just an ordinary snail. It's one of a handful of carnivorous land-snails that live here and feed on insects, slugs and worms. The Otway Black Snail only occurs in the Otway Ranges and is a relict of a time before the mighty continents drifted apart 500 million years ago. It's fitting that it shares a home with other descendants of the 'Gondwanan' era: Myrtle Beech and tree ferns.

The impressive canopy of fine interlocking leaves casts a dappled light, blocking out the sun and preserving the cool, rich damp conditions below - ideal hunting grounds for 'Victor' (the name given to the snail by locals, after its scientific name Victaphanta).

If you want to see "Victa", Maits Rest is one of the best spots. They are easiest to find in cool winter conditions but are present year-round. You might see one crossing the path or spot the glint of an obsidian shell in the half-light of the forest floor. The best place to try is from the boardwalk on the second half of the loop track, which starts at the Maits Rest car park, about 10 minutes west of Apollo Bay.

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