A Big Effort To Save Tiny Snails

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Chittanango Amber Ovate Snail

About a half-hour east of Syracuse, in the dense deciduous woods of Chittenanngo State Park, a waterfall tumbles 15-and-a-half stories down a staircase of 400-million year old bedrock. In the mist on either side, fallen leaves mix with green mosses and liverworts.

This spot is the only place where the ovate amber snail lives.

Because the entire population lives in such a small area, biologists have worried that just one event, like a rockslide, could deal a devastating blow, possibly wiping out the entire species.

In order to make sure that doesn't happen, scientists successfully bred the snails in captivity for the first time earlier this year.

"It's a lot of work," said Rebecca Rundell, an assistant professor at SUNY's College of Environmental Science and Forestry, who conducted the research along with graduate student Cody Gilbertson. 

"We have these data loggers out in the wild," Rundell explained, "that take readings on things like temperature over time over an entire summer or spring, and we take humidity [readings] at the site and we match those conditions exactly in the growth chamber."

It took two tries, but they were ultimately successful. Rundell said the eggs were beautiful.

"They look like little clear grape clusters, they're almost crystalline looking," she said.

In October, the team released the baby snails for the first time. Rundell said it'll be years before it becomes clear whether the release has an impact, as the snails will have reach reproductive maturity.

With any luck, the  little guys will go on to make some babies of their own, helping bolster the population, and ensure the continuation of the species, and the complexity of the wild world.

 Hypothesis is written and produced by Alec Hamilton and edited by Matthew Schuerman. Sound design and engineering by Liora Noam-Kravitz. Original music by Josh Burnett.

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