Zoo rescues Bermuda snails facing extinction

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Their lush home amid the rainforests of Bermuda has been swapped for a plastic food container the size of a shoe box.

But for 56 Bermudian land snails ensconced in a quarantine room at London Zoo, this is clearly reason to celebrate.

The Poecilozonites circumfirmatus, which measure only a few millimetres in length, have been sent to London to save them from extinction.

The snails are the only remaining genus endemic to Bermuda and might have become extinct within weeks had the rescue not taken place. Only a single colony of the snails remains on the island and the batch of 12 adults and 44 youngsters are thought to represent about half of the surviving population.

Their transatlantic odyssey began when Bermuda's Natural History Museum contacted the Invertebrate Conservation Unit at London Zoo. "We were happy to get involved in such a critical project," said Paul Pearce-Kelly, curator of invertebrates at London Zoo. "We've had a lot of success breeding a Polynesian snail called Partula and we can use that knowledge to help the Bermudian species and hopefully re-establish them in the wild."

For specialists at London Zoo, the delivery from Bermuda has provided keepers with the opportunity to examine a species that has never been researched before.

The snails, which arrived at the zoo three weeks ago, appear to have settled in well. "They have laid several batches of eggs and they are starting to hatch now," said Dave Clarke, the head keeper at the Invertebrate Conservation Unit.

"We weren't even sure if they would give birth to live snails, like the Partula, or if they would lay eggs. In general terms, there are more than 40,000 different types of snails, which is more than the total number of animals with backbones."

The Bermudian land snails were thought to be under threat from other invertebrates such as the carnivorous wolf snail, which was imported into the British dependency from Florida in 1975.