by Crystal Cockman
December 27, 2017
You may remember me writing about taking a trip on the Black River near Wilmington to see some ancient bald cypress. Andy Wood, Director of the Coastal Plain Conservation Group (CPCG), led this trip. CPCG is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization working to protect rare and imperiled plants and wildlife and the habitats that benefit them and us. Andy brought some interesting plants and animals along to share with the group as we made the long trip back to Wilmington. One of these critters was particularly special, as it is one of Earth’s rarest animal species – the Magnificent ramshorn (Planorbella magnifica).
This critically-imperiled and salt-intolerant freshwater snail once inhabited beaver ponds and blackwater streams within the lower Cape Fear River Basin, including Wilmington’s Greenfield Lake where it was last documented in the mid-1900s. Unfortunately, this largest North American aquatic lunged snail has not been seen anywhere in the wild since 2004.
From 1992 to present, most of the world’s last living members of Magnificent Ramshorn have been in the captive care of CPCG Director Andy Wood. CPCG may be caretaking the last living members of the species.
The snail’s habitat was first lost as a result of 19th century trapping of American beaver. The snail’s habitat loss today is a consequence of saltwater intrusion resulting from dredging the Cape Fear River to facilitate trans-Atlantic shipping to and from the Wilmington State Port.
CPCG is keeping this charming snail from extinction in its “Planorbella Conservatory,” all but single-handedly (in the words of the US Fish & Wildlife Service) with hope that one day the animals will be returned to the wild in a location safe from saltwater and other habitat threats. This can only happen if CPCG upgrades its husbandry facility with a greenhouse structure that will exclude protein-hungry aquatic insects and tree frog tadpoles that eat snail tissue.
Currently a Candidate Federal Endangered Species, the Fish & Wildlife Service says it will not grant full Endangered Species status to the Magnificent Ramshorn before 2019, if it is listed at all. Little protection is available for the snail until it is listed. There are currently filmmakers who are interested in telling the story of the 25-year crusade to save this Cape Fear River endemic snail.
Snails may not be the most charismatic of species, but saving rare snails from extinction is not trivial, even in light of human needs, because CPCG’s work measurably protects the integrity of ecosystem services that also benefit people. You can learn more about CPCG’s work and donate to their cause at https://coastalplaincg.org/.