Oahu Tree Snails
On the island of Oahu, there lives a group of snails found nowhere else in the world. They belong to the endemic Hawaiian family Achatinellidae. These small snails are isolated on Oahu's mountain ridges and have evolved through allopatric speciation into a multitude of different species. Yet, their fate is in our hands. All the remaining species are threatened with extinction in our lifetime.
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Tree Snail Facts
While Oahu used to have nearly 42 different snails, there remain now only about 7-8 snails and all but two are endangered. These snails remain in captivity at the University of Hawaii, where breeding efforts are underway to increase populations to be re-introduced in the wild.
Tree snails give birth to live young after they are reproductively mature. It may take up to seven years for a snail to become reproductively mature. Very few snails have such slow reproductive rates. The young baby keiki, are released from the mother shell and all. The babies are only about 4.5 mm large. An adult snail can give birth to one keiki from once four times a year.
No one knows for sure exactly how long an adult tree snail lives. However, there are snails at the University of Hawaii Tree Snail Lab, that have been alive for over 10 years. Researchers predict that this is probably the maximum lifespan for wild populations.
Tree snails have an unusual diet. They spend almost their entire lives on one tree (usually an ohia or kopiko tree), eating a type of fungus that grows on the leaves. Captive snails are bred in contains with native ohia leaves, and a type of cultivated fungal mat.
The best way for you to help the native snails is to tell other people about them. Refer them to this site so that they can learn more themselves. Start snail educational programs at your local school to educate the children. If you happen to be lucky enough to find a snail on a trail don't touch it. Instead, take a picture and put it on your wall for others to see. Finally, write your politicians and let them know how important you think the snails are. Its only through continued funding that UH researchers can sustain these magnificent native creatures.