In central New York, in the mist where Chittenango Falls cascades over million-year-old bedrock, creep several hundred tiny, rare animals that evolved over 2 million years ago.
Chittenango ovate amber snails (Succinea chittenangoensis) are unique to the Empire State—you won’t find them anywhere else in the world.
While similar fossil shells have been found as far north as Ontario, Canada and as far west as Tennessee and Iowa, the only known living population of these small snails is at the edge of this waterfall in Chittenango Falls State Park.
The snail, which some biologists affectionately refer to as “the Chit,” is named for its home; its ovate, egg-shaped shell; and its amber coloring.
|We’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act – and the recovery of the first invertebrate under the ESA, Arkansas’ Magazine Mountain shagreen snail.Check out other stories of endangered plant and animal conservation in the Northeast!|
The snails thrive in the spray zone of the waterfall, a moist and mild environment, and they feed on microscopic plants growing on nearby rocks and vegetation.
For years, biologists feared that a single, catastrophic event such as a toxic spill, could wipe out the entire population of Chittenango ovate amber snails.
“Anything that goes wrong at this one location affects the entire species,” says Robyn Niver, a biologist in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s New York Field Office. “For example, in 2006, after some high rain events, a large section of rock came loose from the surrounding cliff and fell right into the snail’s habitat.”
Where are we today?
To prepare for that possibility, several partners have teamed up to keep an eye on the population size and to protect some snails in captivity. Every two weeks, from May to September, a group of volunteers combs sections of the cliff for snails, tagging them with bee tags (small tags used to identify and track individuals), and then returning them to the same spot. …Continue reading this story!
- A podcast about the Chit with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Robyn Niver
- A video about the Chit and the people working to ensure its future at the falls