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Rare Central Coast snail making big comeback from near extinction

U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service
The Morro Shoulderband snail was facing extinction largely due to loss of habitat, but decades of conservation efforts have led to it being reclassified from endangered to threatened.

Conservation efforts have lead to the snail being downgraded from endangered, to threatened status by the federal government.

It’s big news about a very tiny, and extremely rare Central Coast resident. A species of snail, only found in a small area of San Luis Obispo County, has reached a major milestone in efforts to save it from extinction.

"The Morro Shoulderband snail is a little smaller than the brown garden snail, smaller than a quarter, and they have chestnut covered shells that can be thin," said Cat Darst, who's an Assistant Field Supervisor with the Ventura office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

She says the tiny snail is only found around Morro Bay, and Los Osos.

"The Morro Shoulderband sail has a really narrow distribution," said Darst. "It's in coastal dune and scrub communities in Western San Luis Obispo County."

In the 1990's, the snails were added to the endangered species list. The main issue was the loss of their habitat to development.

As biologists studied the snails, they discovered their uniqueness.

While the snails might not seem like a big deal, they are an important part of the region’s habitat. They eat decaying plants, and provide food for everything from birds and reptiles to mammals.

Because of the way the Morro Shoulderband snails live, it’s unusual to see them in their habitat, unless you look in the right place at the right time. They only come out in wet weather, sealing themselves inside of their shells for months at a time when it's dry.

Like other snails, the Morro Shoulderbands share a very unique characteristic. They are both male and female, which means when two snails mate, they can both produce fertilized eggs.

Darst says a number of groups came together to fight to protect the tiny snails. The main focus was preserving and enhancing what was left of their habitat.

The snails were considered to be endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, but recovery efforts since the 1990’s just moved them down a tier, to “threatened”. It means the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service no longer considers them to be in danger of extinction.

Darst says while the population of the snails was considered to be down to a few hundreds in the 1990’s, it’s now back into the thousands.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.