Lone Snail Dies, Species Now Extinct

George was the last tree snail of his kind.

An Achatinella apexfulva snail in Hawaii named George has passed away. He was 14 years old and the last known member of his species.

19th century records indicate that Hawaii’s snail population once reached over 10,000.  “Anything that is abundant in the forest is an integral part of it,” Michael Hadfield, an invertebrate biologist in Hawaii, told National Geographic.

At one time there were over 750 species of land snail in Hawaii, a little over 200 of them were members of the tree snail family.

In the early 2000s, George was bred in captivity at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. A short time after the rest of his family died. George was named after “Lonesome George,” the Pinta Island tortoise who was the very last of his kind.

Hawaiian tree snails help keep the trees they attach to healthy.

From National Geographic: “The Hawaiian tree snails specialize on the gunk that grows on leaves. Upon feeding, they reduce the abundance of fungi on leaves while increasing fungal diversity—and because of that, they may have helped protect their host trees from diseases. Some biologists think healthy snail populations could have prevented the current outbreak of Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, a new fungal pathogen wiping out native trees.”

Researches are devastated by the news.

“I know it’s just a snail, but it represents a lot more,” says David Sischo, coordinator of the Snail Extinction Prevention Program and a wildlife biologist with the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

“We’ve had populations that have been monitored for over a decade, and they seemed stable… then, within the past two years they’ve completely disappeared,” says Sischo. “We’ve all broken down and cried in the field.”

This species’ decline can be attributed to the rosy wolfsnail- a snail/slug hybrid that was given the nickname “cannibal snail” because it gobbles down its own kind. Due to increases rainfall and higher temps, the wolfsnail is climbing higher up trees to devour George’s family members.

In 2017 a small piece of George’s foot was sent to the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research’s “Frozen Zoo” so scientist could use his DNA to clone him (once they have the technical ability to do so).

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