The Magnificent Ramshorn snail, whose brown coiled shell is peppered with leopard spots, has gone extinct in its wild habitat in the Lower Cape Fear River Basin.
Now the US Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to place the Magnificent Ramshorn on the Endangered Species List. The agency plans to reintroduce the snail from captive populations back into the wild, in southeastern North Carolina. (Scroll down for information on how to comment.)
“The science that the Service has gathered on the Magnificent Ramshorn indicates it is in danger of extinction throughout all of its range,” said Regional Director Leopoldo Miranda-Castro. The snail was last spotted in the wild in 2004.
USFWS wants to designate 739 acres in Brunswick County as critical habitat for the snail: Orton Pond and Big Pond (also known as Pleasant Oaks Pond).
These freshwater ponds contain suitable habitat for the snail and are essential for its conservation, considering the life history and conservation needs of the species, the agency said in a press release.
There are Magnificent Ramshorn snails in captivity, all descendants from two distinct populations from Pleasant Oaks Pond and Orton Pond.
The state Division of Water Resources and USFWS are working with the city of Wilmington to improve the water quality of Greenfield Lake, which formerly supported the species.
In 2019 and 2020, USFWS staff met with Department of Defense and the NC Plant Conservation Program, which own land and manage several ponds within the historical range of the Magnificent Ramshorn. Both organization allowed the NC Wildlife Resources Commission to assess potential habitats for the snails, including water quality analyses to determine whether their ponds could be suitable. Private landowners could also host habitats.
Only about 1,000 snails exist in captivity, but even those situations could be precarious. “A catastrophic event, such as a severe storm, disease, or predator infestation, affecting the captive populations could result in the near extinction of the species,” USFWS press release said.
In the mid-1990s, snails lived at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher, but they were later moved to a private snail sanctuary due because of the harmful effects of the salt-laden air at the aquarium.
The snails continue to live at the private facility.
A second captive population is at NC State University, in Raleigh; a third is at the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s Conservation Aquaculture Center in Marion.
The breeding and care of the snails in captivity is paid for in part by $250,000 from a 2019 legal settlement between the NC Department of Transportation and several plaintiffs over the Complete 540 toll road project in southern Wake County. Although the toll road is not in the snail’s native range, the funding for snails was part of the agreement.
USFWS is accepting public comment on the proposed rule via the federal eRulemaking portal: https://www.regulations.gov
In the search box, enter Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2022–0070. Comments on the proposed rule must be received by 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 17, 2022.