SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Biologists in Utah are celebrating an exciting discovery after finding a species never before seen in the Beehive State.
During annual surveys in April of the Dry Fork Canyon in the Uinta Mountains, biologists with the Division of Wildlife Resources discovered the zoogenetes harpa snail – otherwise known as the boreal top snail. In May, it was again discovered in the Big Brush Creek Canyon in the Uintas.
So far, eight live boreal top snails have been found in the area. Biologists were recently able to confirm the snail as a new species to Utah.
Until now, there were 66 known aquatic snail species and 58 known land snail species in Utah. The discovery of the boreal top snail brings Utah’s total snail species count to 125.
The boreal top snail is a tiny land snail measuring only four millimeters in length as an adult. That is about the size of a grain of quinoa. It has a unique shell very different from other land snails in Utah that is reddish-brown and cone-shaped with ribbing along the bottom spirals.
DWR explains the boreal top snail, like most other land snails, is most active in the spring and fall when temperatures are mild and moisture levels are higher. The snails were all discovered under fallen logs, at or near the bottom of the canyons, in mountain forests dominated by fir trees.
While records are fairly scarce, DWR says this snail has been found in Japan, Scandinavia, the Swiss Alps, northern Russia, Canada, and several states in the northern U.S. states. Biologists believe these snails being found in the Uinta Mountains are part of the snail’s native range.
“Finding a new species is very exciting because it shows that there are still many things to be learned and discovered when it comes to the natural world, and it shows that there is still a lot that we don’t know yet,” DWR Native Aquatics Biologist Jordon Detlor says. “That excitement and spirit of discovery is what drew me into the field of natural resources.”
Native snail management is fairly new in Utah but biologists are conducting surveys statewide to learn more about the different species, their distribution, and how to reduce or eliminate threats to snails to better conserve them.
Many native aquatic snail species, according to DWR, are being threatened by non-native species like New Zealand mudsnails and illegally introduced pet fish.
“Because land snails feed on living and dead plant material and help break down leaf litter and rotting wood, they are an important piece of the puzzle for healthy, functional ecosystems,” Detlor explains. “They in turn are a food source for different insects, small mammals and even some birds, including grouse and turkeys. Snails are part of the rich diversity of wildlife that we enjoy here in Utah.”