What is one of the most endangered animals in the world? The Chittenango Ovate Amber Snail. This unassuming little critter lives in only one place, and that's Chittenango Falls State Park, just east of Syracuse. These snails live in a tiny microhabitat: the mist zone of the falls, which is about 1,000 square feet.
|Chittenango Ovate Amber Snail #42: After being recorded, the snails are returned to the same spot where they were found.|
The snails are beingmonitored. Every two weeks – spring, summer and fall – volunteers gather to survey the snails by searching for and collecting as many snails as they can in a given period of time. Each snail is numbered with a tiny sticker. The numbers are recorded and then the snails are returned to their places on the cliffs next to the falls. Research is also being done to better understand how an invasive snail species is affecting the COAS.
SUNY ESF, The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, New York Sate Department of Parks and US Fish and Wildlife Service are spearheading the program. A number of other institutions, including the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, provide support.
The zoo will also be participating in a captive breeding program for the snails to help protect the species in case of disaster at the falls. The need for a breeding program was particularly evident when a portion of the cliff collapsed on to the COAS' habitat in 2006.
Why should we care whether the COA continues to exist? Well, for one thing, there's curiosity. Why would a snail evolve that fits one tiny habitat, and nowhere else? Was its habitat larger at one time and if it was, why has it now become so small? How does it fit into its ecosystem? Does any other part of its ecosystem, a plant or another animal perhaps, depend on COAS? We don't yet know the answers to these questions.
The mist zone is the green area to the left of the falls. Notice the rock fall to the left of the mist zone. This area was once prime COA snail habitat. Although researchers are able to access the snail habitat to continue their study, this area is not accessible to the public.