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November 20, 2009

ULM researchers make significant snail discovery at Black Bayou

Researchers in the Department of Biology at the University of Louisiana at Monroe recently made a startling discovery in a northeastern Louisiana wildlife refuge.

The Flamed Tigersnail (Anguispira alternata), thought to no longer occur in Louisiana, was discovered alive and well in the Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge north of Monroe.

The snail was originally thought to only exist as fossils in Louisiana.

ULM Biology graduate students Erin Basiger and Casey Nolan, under the guidance of their faculty advisor, Dr. Russell Minton, set out to survey the diversity of land snails at the Refuge when they came upon a snail with an unexpected shell pattern and shape that, upon further research, was determined should no longer be alive.

Land snail expert Leslie Hubricht indicated in his 1985 seminal work, “The Distributions of the Native Land Mollusks of the Eastern United States,” that the snail native to eastern North America and states along the Mississippi River no longer existed in Louisiana, except in fossil form.

While sorting through collected specimens, Minton noticed live snails with reddish-brown shells covered in distinct brown patches and spots that seemed out of place with the others. Subsequent research led to the identification of the snails as Flamed Tigersnails.

Living specimens of Flamed Tigersnails in Louisiana are an important find, according to Minton.

“The discovery highlights the need for careful surveys for land snails and other easily overlooked terrestrial invertebrate species in the United States and worldwide,” he explained.

Minton added, “Our findings suggest that this snail is alive in Louisiana. Researchers may have overlooked it, or it may occupy a reduced range in the state due to a loss of suitable habitats from human activity. It’s an interesting find for us and for the refuge.”

A paper about the discovery has been accepted for publication in Zoological Studies, the quarterly journal of the Academia Sinica of Taiwan. Prairie Biotic Research Inc. funded the project through a private grant.

Refuge Manager Brett Hortman is pleased with the discovery saying, “The partnership between Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge and ULM continues to be productive for both. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to supporting research leading to the preservation of native species such as this. Congratulations to ULM’s Biology Department!”

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