Snails brought back from the brink of extinction are released into the wild

Four thousand Bermudan snails from a rare species feared to have gone extinct are being released into the wild thanks to the conservation efforts of a UK zoo.

The greater Bermuda land snail was thought to have vanished from the planet, with populations decimated by invasive predatory species, until a small group was discovered in an alleyway in the island’s capital, Hamilton, in 2014.

They remain critically endangered but, in the last few years, experts at Chester Zoo have been building up a population — a project which culminates this month as 4,000 of the snails are released back into the wild in Bermuda.

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Four thousand snails from a rare species feared to have gone extinct are being released into the wild thanks to the conservation efforts of a UK zoo.

Four thousand snails from a rare species feared to have gone extinct are being released into the wild thanks to the conservation efforts of a UK zoo.

Four thousand snails from a rare species feared to have gone extinct are being released into the wild thanks to the conservation efforts of a UK zoo.

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE GREATER BERMUDA LAND SNAIL? 

The greater Bermuda land snails (Poecilozonites bermudensis) is a 0.8 inch (2 centimetre).

They only live on the remote oceanic islands of Bermuda.

Their populations were devastated by the arrival of invasive predators like carnivorous snails and flatworms.

From the 1950s onward, snail numbers declined rapidly. 

The snails were thought to have gone extinct, until a small population was found in an overgrown alley of the Bermudan capitol of Hamilton in 2014.

Less than 200 are now thought to exist in the wild.

‘It’s incredible to be involved in a project that has prevented the extinction of a species,’ said Gerardo Garcia, the zoo’s curator of lower vertebrates and invertebrates.

‘The Bermuda snail is one of Bermuda’s oldest endemic animal inhabitants.’

‘It has survived radical changes to the landscape and ecology on the remote oceanic islands of Bermuda over a million years but, since the 1950s and ’60s, it has declined rapidly.’

The snails are being released on to Nonsuch Island, a protected nature reserve which has been identified as the best location for them to thrive, in part due to the absence of the species’ main predators, including carnivorous snails and flatworms.

A number of them will be tracked thanks to special fluorescent tags trialled by snail specialist Kristiina Ovaska at the zoo.

 This will allow conservationists to monitor how the released snails disperse, grow in size and population and react to living in their new surroundings.

The greater Bermuda land snail was thought to have vanished from the planet, with populations decimated by invasive predatory species, until a small group was discovered in an alleyway in the island's capital, Hamilton, in 2014

The greater Bermuda land snail was thought to have vanished from the planet, with populations decimated by invasive predatory species, until a small group was discovered in an alleyway in the island's capital, Hamilton, in 2014

The greater Bermuda land snail was thought to have vanished from the planet, with populations decimated by invasive predatory species, until a small group was discovered in an alleyway in the island’s capital, Hamilton, in 2014  

They remain critically endangered but, in the last few years, experts at Chester Zoo have been building up a population — a project which culminates this month as 4,000 of the snails are released back into the wild in Bermuda

They remain critically endangered but, in the last few years, experts at Chester Zoo have been building up a population — a project which culminates this month as 4,000 of the snails are released back into the wild in Bermuda

 They remain critically endangered but, in the last few years, experts at Chester Zoo have been building up a population — a project which culminates this month as 4,000 of the snails are released back into the wild in Bermuda

A number of the released snails will be tracked thanks to special fluorescent tags being trialled by snail specialist Dr Kristiina Ovaska at the zoo

A number of the released snails will be tracked thanks to special fluorescent tags being trialled by snail specialist Dr Kristiina Ovaska at the zoo

A number of the released snails will be tracked thanks to special fluorescent tags being trialled by snail specialist Dr Kristiina Ovaska at the zoo

Mark Outerbridge, wildlife ecologist for the Bermuda Government, said: ‘It has been tremendously gratifying for me to see them return to Bermuda for reintroduction.

‘We have identified a number of isolated places that are free of their main predators and I am looking forward to watching them proliferate at these release sites.’

Another species — the lesser Bermuda snail — is expected to be released in the coming months.

The snails are being released on to Nonsuch Island, a protected nature reserve which has been identified as the best location for them to thrive, in part due to the absence of the species' main predators, including carnivorous snails and flatworms

The snails are being released on to Nonsuch Island, a protected nature reserve which has been identified as the best location for them to thrive, in part due to the absence of the species' main predators, including carnivorous snails and flatworms

The snails are being released on to Nonsuch Island, a protected nature reserve which has been identified as the best location for them to thrive, in part due to the absence of the species’ main predators, including carnivorous snails and flatworms

Dr Outerbridge, wildlife ecologist for the Bermuda Government, said: 'It has been tremendously gratifying for me to see them return to Bermuda for reintroduction.'

Dr Outerbridge, wildlife ecologist for the Bermuda Government, said: 'It has been tremendously gratifying for me to see them return to Bermuda for reintroduction.'

Dr Outerbridge, wildlife ecologist for the Bermuda Government, said: ‘It has been tremendously gratifying for me to see them return to Bermuda for reintroduction.’

'We have identified a number of isolated places that are free of their main predators and I am looking forward to watching them proliferate at these release sites,' said Dr Outerbridge

'We have identified a number of isolated places that are free of their main predators and I am looking forward to watching them proliferate at these release sites,' said Dr Outerbridge

‘We have identified a number of isolated places that are free of their main predators and I am looking forward to watching them proliferate at these release sites,’ said Dr Outerbridge

WILL GLOBAL WARMING CAUSE SPECIES TO SHRINK?

A recent study in Canada found that over the last century, the beetles in the region have shrunk.

By looking at eight species of beetle and measuring the animals from past and present they found that some beetles were adapting to a reduced body size.

The data also showed that the larger beetles were shrinking, but the smaller ones were not. 

Around 50 million years ago the Earth warmed by three degrees Celsius (5.4°F) and as a result, animal species at the time shrunk by 14 per cent. 

Another warming event around 55 million years ago – called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) – warmed the earth by up to eight degrees Celsius (14.4°F).

In this instance, animal species of the time shrunk by up to a third. 

Woolly mammoths were a victim of warming climate, shrinking habitat and increased hunting from a growing early-human population which drove them to extinction - along with many large animals

Woolly mammoths were a victim of warming climate, shrinking habitat and increased hunting from a growing early-human population which drove them to extinction - along with many large animals

Woolly mammoths were a victim of warming climate, shrinking habitat and increased hunting from a growing early-human population which drove them to extinction – along with many large animals

Shrinking in body size is seen from several global warming events.

With the global temperatures set to continue to rise, it is expected the average size of most animals will decrease. 

As well as global warming, the world has seen a dramatic decrease in the amount of large animals. 

So called ‘megafauna’ are large animals that go extinct. With long life-spans and relatively small population numbers, they are less able to adapt to rapid change as smaller animals that reproduce more often. 

Often hunted for trophies or for food, large animals like the mastadon, mammoths and the western black rhino, which was declared extinct in 2011, have been hunted to extinction. 

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