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Extinction of the Hawaiian Tree Snail

By: Steve Frailey Wednesday January 16, 2019 comments Tags: animals on the organic noni farm, hawaiian wildlife

We are sad to report George passed away on January 1, 2019. George was approximately 14 years old. His death was confirmed by Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources. 

A little about George

Formally known as Achatinella apexfulva, the 14-year-old Hawaiian tree snail was the last of his kind on Earth. Yes my friends, this snail is officially extinct.

As the last known Achatinella apexfulva, George resided alone in a terrarium at Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources snail lab in Kailua, Oahu, with 30 other snail species near extinction.

George’s Home Life

George was born at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa in the early 2000’s. Other siblings to George were born, but only George survived. George’s parents, along with the last 10 known remaining Hawaiian snails, were collected near Oahu's Poamoho trail in 1997.

For over a decade, researchers unsuccessfully searched for another member of George’s species for repopulation.

Did you know? Although Achatinella apexfulva snails are hermaphrodites (organisms that have complete or partial male and female reproductive organs), two adults must mate to produce offspring.

Sharing a space in a lab with 2,000 other snails isn’t easy. All 2,001 snails reside in custom terrariums with strict climate control and diets.

About the Hawaiian Tree Snail

Hawaiian tree snails are described as “jewels of the forest”.

Hawaiian tree snails fulfilled a variety of purposes on the island such as:

  • Decomposing plant matter
  • Protecting trees from harmful fungi

Did you know? Hawaiian folklore depicts the tree snails as being able to sing referred to as “the voice of the forest”. There are over 30 pieces of traditional Hawaiian poetry that mention Hawaiian snails singing (kahuli).

In several ways, Hawaiian tree snails are more like mammals or birds than other invertebrates:

  • Living into their teens
  • Taking five or more years to reach sexual maturity
  • Give birth to less than ten offspring per breeding season

Hawaiian Tree Snail Population

The Hawaiian tree snail population was healthy at one time. Records from the 19th century claim that more than 10,000 Hawaiian tree snail shells could be collected in a single day!

Did you know? There were once over 750 species terrestrial snails in Hawaii. Approximately 200 were in the tree snail family.

Sadly it is estimated that over 90% of snail species diversity has been lost!

Threats

Scientist estimate most of the large tree snail population on the Hawaiian islands will be extinct in the wild within the next 5-10 years.

Did you know? Land snails and slugs represent about 40 percent of the known animal extinctions since the 1500’s.

Hawaii's native snail populations have been decimated by a series of invasive species including:

  • Rats
  • Jackson's chameleons (imported from Kenya as pets)
  • Rosy wolf snail (introduced to Hawaii in the 1950’s)
  • Pigs (habitat destruction)
  • Goats (habitat destruction)
  • Deer (habitat destruction)

Did you know? The Hawaiian Islands are sometimes referred as “the endangered species capital of the world.” This is due to the state of Hawaii accounting for less than 0.25% of the country’s total land mass, but contains over 25% of all native endangered species in the US.

What happens now?

In 2017, a small portion of George’s foot was removed and sent to the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research’s “Frozen Zoo”. Scientist hope this sample will provide enough DNA should they ever desire to clone George in the near future. But unless the natural habitat Hawaiian snails lived in are restored, and the invasive predators removed, restoration of the species will be near impossible.

If there’s any silver lining to George’s death, this may draw attention to this hidden extinction crisis hitting the globe while there’s still time to do something.

 

Source:
https://www.npr.org/2019/01/07/682908544/george-reclusive-hawaiian-snail-and-last-of-his-kind-dies-at-14
https://www.sciencealert.com/lonely-george-a-hawaiian-tree-snail-has-died-taking-his-species-with-him
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/01/george-the-lonely-snail-dies-in-hawaii-extinction/
https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/ecosystems/hip/sep/
https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/09/us/lonely-george-the-snail-dies-trnd/index.html
https://nypost.com/2019/01/09/last-of-hawaiian-snail-species-dies-at-age-14/
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/08/george-the-snail-tree-snail-hawaiian-islands-biodiversity

Steve Frailey

About the Author: Steve Frailey

My wife and I (Steve Frailey) moved to Kauai, Hawaii in 1982 from our organic farm in California. There were no roads, electricity, water or buildings but lots of Noni trees (Morinda Citrifolia) in our valley. We also developed a deep relationship with Noni that was growing all through our valley.  Today we run our Hawaiian Organic Noni farm, and share the gift of health with people throughout the world.



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