4000 Endemic Bermuda Land Snails Repatriated

February 11, 2019

This month, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources [DENR] successfully repatriated 4000 endemic Bermuda land snails to Bermuda.

“The snails [Poecilozonites bermudensis] are currently being tagged and will then be released on Nonsuch Island and another, privately-owned island, as part of a monitoring project that will study how well the population fares post-release,” a spokesperson explained.

“The snails came from a joint breeding effort by the Zoological Society of London and the Chester Zoo. The endemic land snails were sent to the Zoological Society of London shortly after their rediscovery in 2014. The captive breeding efforts at the Zoological Society of London produced so many snails — thousands — that they gave some to the Chester Zoo.

“Poecilozonites bermudensis was thought to be extinct until the species was rediscovered in a Hamilton alley in 2014. Prior to that, the last recorded sighting of this endemic land snail was made in the early 1970s by the well-known paleontologist and Harvard professor Stephen J Gould.”

N31 snail on Nonsuch wall Bermuda Feb 2019

“This species is unique to Bermuda and is part of an ancient lineage of land snail that dates back in time over one million years. Historically described as being extremely abundant on Bermuda, the island-wide population experienced a dramatic decline during the 20th century because of predation from introduced carnivorous snails and terrestrial flatworms.”

“These offspring came from the relict population found in Hamilton back in 2014,” explained the Department’s Wildlife Ecologist Dr. Mark Outerbridge. “Releasing them back into their natural habitat is part of the on-going recovery of this critically endangered species.”

“Only a handful of residents have actually seen a living endemic land snail,” said Dr. Outerbridge. “However, their fossilized shells are commonly found embedded in the rocks along south shore. I don’t expect they will ever be as numerous as they once were, but hopefully this species will get a new lease on life once it becomes established on the island nature reserves.”

Surveys undertaken by DENR and a core team of volunteers indicate that both islands have snail-friendly habitats and no evidence was found of the main predators that nearly caused their extinction.

In 2016, a limited number of endemic land snails were released and monitored on Nonsuch Island to see how they managed. Breeding and range expansion were observed over the years that followed. This gave the team confidence to make the decision to release a much larger number of captive-bred snails.

The snails will continue to be monitored at both reintroduction locations and additional islands will be identified for future releases.

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Comments (12)

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  1. sage says:

    These look like the snail shells found fossilized in limestone , never seen a living example. They probably won’t fare well against the incessant application of rodeo and round-up products on mainland Bermuda nowadays unfortunately.

    • Toodle-oo says:

      That’s because they ARE the same thing . Long thought extinct very small colonies were discovered in the last 20 or so years . One supposedly in the Horseshoe Beach area . Another eagle eyed local amazingly stumbled on a tiny group on the ground level walkway of Walker’s Arcade a few years ago.
      The other fossilized shell on the South Shore cliffs is the West Indian Topshell , also eaten to extinction a few hundred years ago but bought back again by that national treasure David Wingate .

  2. Crabs says:

    Will the same be done for the orange crabs I used to see in so much abundance along South shore

    • Closing Advice says:

      Agreed, bring the crabs back! Don’t even see frogs hopping across the street much when its rainy anymore. Everything getting killed off. All we have now are rats and chickens.

    • Toodle-oo says:

      I don’t know whether it’s true or not but I was told that the herons were introduced to control the land crab population because they were making holes all over the golf courses . If so , they did too good of a job.
      Some people I know swear down that the herons are now seen on large lawns at night chasing/catching toads because they mistake them for crabs !

  3. Lone Wolf says:

    I’m not sure how I feel about these types of projects. I understand wanting to preserve nature and wanting to save endangered species, but ,in doing so aren’t we interfering with evolution?

    I don’t think it matters in this case how this snail species almost became extinct. What matters is that evolution selected this species to die out, possibly paving the way for a new species to evolve somewhere in the distant future.

    Only now we have decided to play god and save this species, possibly destroying the chances for the selected new species to ever evolve.

    Of course, I could be completely wrong and saving this species of snail may just work out to be the best thing to do.

    I’m just thinking out loud. Wondering if anyone else has considered that we may be tampering with evolution in a negative way by saving species that were naturally selected to go extinct.

    • Chris Nelson says:

      I take your point, but I guess it would depend on whether this was natural evolution or was somehow a result of human intervention.

      • Kathy says:

        Yes, apparently, the article refers to introduced carnivorous snails and flatworms, so these little guys were doomed if it were not for the programme to save them. Well done to everyone who thinks even the littlest of creatures deserve a second chance! If naturists, like Dr. Outerbridge, were allowed to publish say once a month endemic species that he believes are extinct or near extinction, perhaps the public could be more on the look out for these little guys. You never know where they could be hiding!

        • Chris Nelson says:

          Thanks Kathy, but I think you meant to say ‘naturalist’. A ‘naturist’ is something a little different. lol.

    • sage says:

      Is evolution an autonomous entity with a pre-set plan capable of selecting species to die out or evolve?

  4. Fern B says:

    The threats to these snails and how they came to be in the state they are in are all written in the recovery plan – https://environment.bm/poecilozonites