Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tiny lab for teensy snails gets a colossal makeover!

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications


When we say the Partula snail is tiny, we really mean it. Photo by Emily Schumacher/WPZ.

If you’ve been to Bug World lately, you may have noticed a very cool addition across the path! Our tiny Tahitian Partula snails have a teensy, new lab!

Look for the conservation lab in the Temperate Forest zone of the zoo. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/WPZ.

The rout of tiny endangered tree snails has moved out of Bug World and across the path to their brand new lab. The snail lab was completed this summer, and all of the residents seem quite at home in their new digs.

You can see animal care and conservation at work when you visit the lab. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/WPZ.

Erin Sullivan, collection manager, tells us a little more about the new lab.

Why do the snails need their own space?
The Partula snails living at Woodland Park Zoo’s lab are very special—they are extinct in the wild. Our zoo is one of the zoo’s participating in the captive breeding efforts for the Partula nodosa, so it is very crucial that these little snails thrive. We needed a special and secure space for our lab work and optimal breeding conditions for the snails.

Woodland Park Zoo works cooperatively with five others zoos to breed Partula with the hope of eventually reintroducing them to their Tahitian homeland and restoring their wiped out population.

Partula up close on a synthetic leaf backdrop. Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

When can visitors view the lab?
Any time! The lab window is open at all times to visitors, so you can stop by any time during zoo hours to check out the Partula breeding program. If you are lucky, you might see a keeper checking up on the snails.

What do the keepers do with the snails?
Keepers clean out the snail boxes, count the baby snails and make sure there are enough food and water sources for the snails. They also make sure the lab is nice and cool.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

Why do you keep the lab cool? Isn't it hot in Tahiti? 
Ideal temperature for a Partula snail is 68-70°F. We have an air conditioner to make sure it does not get above 70°F in the lab. These temperatures are similar to the snail’s native conditions in the wild.

What do the snails eat?
We crush nettle leaves, calcium, dog food, oats and snail vitamins into a fine powder. We then add water to make a green slurry for the snails that they love!

How many snails do we have? And, how long do they live?
We have a little over 900 snails at any given time. A rarity in the snail world, Partula give live birth to a single offspring every 4-6 weeks, as opposed to a typical brown garden snail that lays hundreds of eggs each year. Partula are very slow growing creatures, and they can live up to around 5 to 6 years.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

What will we do with the Partula population once they are healthy? 
Plans are underway to reintroduce P. nodosa back to Tahiti in the next couple of years in what is being billed as the world's smallest wildlife preserve: an approximately 20-meter-square protected site that will contain the released specimens.

Averaging only about 0.5 inches in shell length, partulid snails live on the stems, trunks, and leaves of many plant species. The snails remain fastened to the undersides of leaves during dry periods but emerge to feed and mate when it rains, mostly at night. More than 100 species of Partula once existed on islands stretching across the South Pacific from Palau to French Polynesia. Now, nearly 70 percent of these species are extinct in the wild. Learn more about our Partula conservation efforts.


Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ
Psst! If you’d like to make a tiny donation (or a colossal one) to help our Partula snail conservation program inch, slime and glide towards success, please donate to Woodland Park Zoo’s conservation program. Not only are you helping the Partula snails, you’re helping snow leopards in Central Asia, tree kangaroos in Papua New Guinea, and even Western pond turtles in our own backyard!

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