Snails from Sedgwick County Zoo flown to Tahiti to replenish near-extinct species

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – By the looks of the 1,000+ Partula nodosa snails in a special conservation room at the Sedgwick County Zoo, you would not know the species was nearing extinction elsewhere in the world.

Now thanks to the zoo, the species is making gains again in the wild of Tahiti in French Polynesia.

“So these snails originated in Tahiti. They were actually extinct out in the wild. They were out-competed by the Giant African Land Snail. And once that started eating away at their habitat, the French government decided to release another snail called the rosy wolfsnail,” explains Jodie Hearlson, ectotherm zookeeper.

Jodie Hearlson in Tahiti (Courtesy: Sedgwick County Zoo)

The rosy wolfsnail eats other snails. The goal by the government was to take away the much larger, Giant African Land Snail but the effort backfired. The rosy wolfsnail ended up eating the smaller Partula snails, making them extinct in the wild.

Before all numbers were lost, zoos from the U.S. and Europe made an effort to introduce some of their own Partula nodosa snails to their native Tahiti. Hearlson got to represent Sedgwick County Zoo on the two week trip last month in June.

“We just did a basic count to see who was out moving around, how many have passed away, how many recaptures we could find,” Hearlson said.

A total of 2,500 snails were released, including 75 from Sedgwick County Zoo. All are marked with a color, a process that does not hurt the snail’s shell, to make or feasible counting and recounting years later.

Hearlson says these snails reproduce every six to eight weeks and can live 15 to 17 years long. All contain both male and female parts and don’t always need a partner snail to reproduce.

The trip reaffirmed Hearlson’s work here at the Sedgwick County Zoo.

“It really puts into perspective what I do. So I’m the sole caretaker of these little guys…people always say, ‘Oh that has to get old,’ but actually going and releasing these snails and seeing their native habitat and seeing them out in the world just makes doing what I do here in the zoo really worth it,” Hearlson said.

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