Glutinous Snail Updates
How it all began
Like school boys with marbles my old friend Pat Wisniewski and I would discuss, with excitement the possibility of establishing a conservation breeding project for the extremely rare glutinous snail; Europe’s rarest freshwater snail. Considered extinct in Germany, Austria and Poland as well as in England; restricted, in Britain, to a single water body in Wales, the glutinous snail’s existence hangs on a glutinous thread. Having worked together on Kerry Spotted Slugs (Geomalacus maculosus) and Mud Snails (Omphiscola glabra) we thought we might be able to do similar work with glutinous snails.
Sadly Pat died before we could ever launch the project but I was contacted by another long-term colleague Dr Jeremy Biggs – Director of the Freshwater Habitats Trust, with whom Pat and I had worked on projects for Tadpole Shrimps (Triops cancriformis) and Crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes). Jeremy asked me if I might establish a population of glutinous snails. Soon (about 3 years later – snail work moves slowly) I was discussion with Jeremy and his freshwater Habitats Trust colleagues Naomi Ewald and Pascale Nicolet about how we might make it happen.
The project begins
We began work on glutinous snails with habitat reconnaisance in 2012; trying to establish feasibility of collection and captive breeding as well as negotiating licencing. Glutinous Snails are protected by law and a Schedule 5 licence is required to disturb them or their habitat. In October 2014, with EU funding from Natural Resources Wales, through Freshwater Habitats Trust we participated in a survey with Dr. Martin Willing (who rediscovered the Welsh population in 1998). On 28th October 2014, at the end of the survey, I collected 10 snails. These were prisoners, now at my mercy and we wondered if we could even get them home alive. By good fortune we did but their vulnerability became all too clear as time passed.
Conservation breeding project
The snails were placed in a small (30cm cube) aquarium with water and stones from their home lake. There was lots of aeration and a strong filter. At the time it was thought, and I had been advised, that the lake was cold and that the glutinous snail population, here at least, probably required low temperatures. I positioned the aquarium in natural light in such a way that it was bright but only received a small amount of direct sunlight in an attempt to replicate the lake’s temperatures. Four of the 10 snails died before December 2014 but on 10th December a snail was clearly seen to be rasping algae from the aquarium wall.
On 28th March 2015 we saw our first batch of eggs (laid at dawn). This was followed by many more batches and the snails were moved into new 7 new aquaria through the year.
Work in the wild
The following year (2016) we developed concrete and wooden refuges to place in the lake so we could survey precisely known locations without harming the snails and compare our findings in captivity with those in the wild. It began to appear that glutinous snails do better in warm well lit conditions than in cool or shade. At the same time I began moving snails into none-aerated tanks and bowls to see if they could survive. They survived and bred.
In April 2017 I converted an old oil tank into 2 ‘ponds’ and began introducing glutinous snails. The ponds were almost identical but one received slightly more sun than the other and these snails thrived. The sunny snails achieved 2 generations in one season and built up to a population of over 2000. The shady snails managed 1 generation and numbered around 200. However, the sunny snails began to fall in numbers and eventually died out while the shady population survived. We now keep moving snails around trying to find out more about them and we return to their natural habitat to inspect our refuges and record anything we think might help.
Observation and Instagram
We started the conservation breeding programme with captive snails, so we could get to grips with their life cycle and biological needs. We needed to observe their behaviour so we could know how to best serve them. Watching snails everyday is time consuming and often uneventful, so I bring snails indoors to live on my desk in order to make incidental observations while I work on other things. This can be surprisingly entertaining but even more so when the events of the day are recorded on time lapse and that is what I’d like to share with you. On our instagram stories we’re sharing a few seconds every day of the goings on in the jars and tanks on my desk. Some days are more exciting than others, but if you’d like to follow along you can find us here.
There is currently no funding for this project, so sales from our T-shirts and notebooks etc go towards keeping this conservation project going. By buying a T-shirt from us you’re helping to save a snail from going extinct – so THANK YOU.
Back to the wild
Whilst we would dearly love to return glutinous snails to the wild in Britain, and it could be as easy as tipping a bucket of snails into a pond, there are obstacles to overcome. Natural Resources Wales will not approve an introduction of snails to any location where they have not previously been found and, in Wales, they have only been found in the location from which our captive snails originated. In England, lowland waters are considered to be too polluted for such a sensitive species to survive and I suspect upland tarns may be too cold. Whilst there may be odd pockets of suitable water, we have not found them yet and the search continues but man-made water bodies seems to be the most feasible medium term solution.
We’re in the process of creating The Prince of Snails, a story book to colour about the snails. It will be available initially as a PDF download and 100% of profits from the sale of it will go directly to the conservation project.