Snail Blazers! Creating a future for one of New York State’s tiniest residents

Imagine yourself in the mist zone of a waterfall.

You are surrounded by dense moss and vegetation and cascading dripping wet rocks.

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Chittenango Falls, USFWS

In Chittenango Falls State Park in upstate New York lives several hundred tiny, rare animals that evolved over 2 million years ago.

The Chittenango ovate amber snails are unique to the Empire State meaning you won’t find them anywhere else in the world!

This population is the only known living wild population of these snails at the edge of this waterfall in Chittenango Falls State Park.

The snail, affectionately referred to as “the Chit” or COAS is named for its home. They have a beautiful ovate, egg-shaped shell with amber coloring. The snails thrive in the mist zone of the waterfall, and feed on leaves of plants growing on nearby rocks and vegetation.

COAS

Up-close of a COAS in captivity. USFWS

For years, biologists feared that a single, catastrophic event such as a toxic spill, could wipe out the entire population of COAS.

This potential devastating truth almost happened after a huge rockslide into their habitat in 2006. This event prompted action and a collaborative partnership emerged between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, SUNY-ESF, the New York State Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Rosamond Gifford Zoo to breed and rear the COAS in captivity with intent to release individuals in to the wild.

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COAS length assessment to document health of the population. USFWS

In the summer season biologists and dedicated volunteers make regular trips to the falls site to complete a species survey and evaluate the health of the COAS population.

On the first of survey of the 2018 season a miraculous event occurred.

Not only were 42 captive reared COAS released in to the wild, but a COAS that was bred in captivity and released last year was found.

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Here is “white 14” the COAS that was captive reared and released last year. USFWS

This finding is monumental!

This means that individual not only was able to find food and support itself, but was able to overwinter successfully. This is so important as it reinforces the captive rearing techniques being refined at SUNY-ESF and the Rosamond Gifford Zoo.

Some people ask, “Why put all this effort in to protecting a snail?” “What would happen if we just let it go extinct?”

The answer to those questions is we don’t really know, but all species have a role.

In addition, as a federally listed species, the public has entrusted the Service with responsibilities towards recovering the COAS.

The COAS has many champions forging ahead to conserve and protect them. It all stems from a cooperative effort to looking to prevent extinction and maintain a successful wild population one snail at a time.

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Captive reared, released, and re-captured “white 14”  with USFWS biologist Robyn Niver. USFWS

 

 

 

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