Magnificent ramshorn snails aren't one of those high-profile endangered species that the conservationists community love to rally behind -- so thank goodness there are folks like Andy Wood. For the last several decades, the scientist from North Carolina has dedicated himself to saving the freshwater snails from extinction, and he's done so virtually single-handedly with the help of a kiddie-pool aquarium. In fact, Wood's efforts may be the only reason ramshorn snails are alive today, and that's a responsibility he doesn't take lightly. "I'm as beholden to this snail as the Cousteau Society is to the blue whale," says Wood, savior of a snail.
As a lifelong animal lover, Wood was inspired to his calling by fellow biologist Bill Adams. Back in 1986, Adams was performing a field survey of North Carolina's endangered crustaceans when, in just one pond in the state, he came across some ramshorn snails -- a species which had only rarely been observed in the wild since its discovery in 1908. After a failed attempt to breed them in captivity, Adams called Wood to see if he wanted to give it a try.
For the next few years, Wood figured out how to keep the rare snails comfortable in his son's wading pool, all the while their native habitat continued to dwindle from droughts in the region. During this time, Wood developed a strong affinity to the species.
Then, in 1996, a powerful hurricane swept through North Carolina and nearly wiped out Wood's aquariums, and inundated the wild snails' only remaining pond with saltwater. In a panic, Wood was able to salvage just 25 Magnificent ramshorn snails he'd been working so hard to save -- and from that small group he's helped them bounce back with even more homemade snail aquariums. Wood's efforts are made all the more important considering that since the hurricane, ramshorn snails have only been seen in the wild a handfull of times. With that in mind, snail-saving biologist has taken his work very, very seriously.
From the Fay Observer:
[Wood] wants to keep the location of his snails secret, because the 1,000 or so in his five black tanks might be the only ones in existence. Wood worries that someone might try to harm or steal them. He's planning to set up high-tech security cameras on his property.
"If I sound paranoid, it is because I am," Wood said. "I don't trust people. There are people who just hate endangered species. They hate rhinoceros. They hate blue whales. They hate hate hate hate hate."
The youngest snails look like specks of dirt, but a full-grown magnificent ramshorn is bigger than a quarter, one of the largest of its kind in North America. Wood calls the ramshorn the Galapagos tortoise of snails. The Greenfield ramshorn, another snail Wood studies but fears may be extinct or close to it, is no bigger than a popcorn kernel.
For as much care and attention Wood has shown towards preserving Magnificent ramshorn snails pretty much all by himself, he sees a bigger problem that needs to be addressed before they can be successfully reintroduced into the wild. "My hope is that we don't get that excited about the snail. Its habitat is what's in danger," he says."Its absence is telling us that there is something wrong with the swamp."
But where Wood himself might approach his contribution to saving the snails with commendable humility, Bill Adams doesn't see him as anything less than a hero, telling the Fay Observer:
"If you look at who has been working for the last 20 to 30 years to save this snail from extinction, there's only one person, and it's Andy. It's because of Andy that the critter is still around."