What’s So Important About Snails? Should You Care If They’re Extinct?

Should we care that the last Hawaiian tree snail has died?

Because this is how the new year of 2019 began, with the extinction of yet another of earth’s creatures. A humble mollusc. The Hawaiian tree snail. The last one in existence, friend to school children, 14 years old and the lonely survivor of his kind, named George. As is the usual story, George’s species died of human causes. Creatures that were imported to the Hawaiian Islands as pets for humans, (along with climate change, also caused by humans), wiped out the Achatinella apexfulva. George was bred and raised in captivity, so he survived longer than most. But now he’s gone.

Should we care? 

Yes, I believe we should. Deeply. Humans are a part of nature. Nature relies on a balance to survive, and humans rely on this balance for our own survival. Three years ago, The Washington Post reported that “nature, untouched by humans, is now almost entirely gone”.

Luckily, we’ve slowed down our destructive deforestation and pillaging of environmental health since then… oh, no, wait… we haven’t. 

I’ve written about the decline of bees. If bees die, humans have about four years of existence left. If snails die? Another vital part of the food chain is gone, for one thing. Along with a zillion pretty shells that have graced this planet for eons; including the tree snail, which according to The Guardian, was said to have been “the voice of the forest” in Hawaiian culture.

I care that George died. I’m not ashamed to say, I cried for George.

Simply put, if nature dies, we die. So, yes, we should care.

Are Your Garden Snails in Decline?

This month, with the arrival of winter—which usually coincides with the arrival of silver trails on our footpaths—we wondered what could be done for snails. And we went outside into the garden to look for some to observe.

No snails. 

None. Extensive searching confirmed that there is not one visible snail in our garden this year. There are ALWAYS snails in our winter garden! Usually, they’re pests. They eat the veggies. And slime the paths. Now? They’re missed. And their absence is a mystery. According to the organisations we’ve asked, snails do have population fluctuations, so that could be the reason for their absence this year. And admittedly, the snails we usually find in our garden are introduced, so it’s not such a bad thing that they’re absent. But, our native land snails are absent too. The truth is that nature is in decline. There are less bugs and mini beasts thriving in our gardens, in our forests and wild spaces (what’s left of them) than there used to be.

The patterned shells interwoven into this beautiful and intricate web called nature, are in decline. Our home—the one we rely on for oxygen, food, water, liveable temperatures and all our needs—is in decline. 

It matters.

Is There Anything You Can Do?

We’re a school-free family, so my daughter has been free to research snails, their decline, and what we can do. We don’t have the answers yet, but what we do have is 5 pet snails, which we bought from Minibeast Wildlife, in Queensland, Australia. The snails we’ve bought aren’t native to our area, so we’ll be looking after them in captivity, and learning to care for them, while we learn about our native snails and how we might be able to help them. 

In the face of an extinction crisis, it doesn’t seem much. In fact, it seems hopeless. To hold a snail in your hand, to care about a little piece of nature, and help it thrive, in the face of such massive problems? To pass on a love of nature, to our children. Can that make a difference?

Yes. Because, that’s caring. And caring raises consciousness. When you care, and when your children care, your choices are different. And goodness knows, our choices as humans need to be different if we are to survive.

Tread Lightly.

Simply put, if you learn to love snails, you’ll tread lightly. And what we need for our species to survive, is for humans to urgently, decisively and unapologetically, tread a zillion-times lighter on this planet.

George is gone now, so we need to be the voice of the forest. The forests are gone now too, so we need to preserve them; in the consciousness of our children, in our own psyche, in small terrariums in our lounge rooms, in the seeds we plant in our gardens, in our democratic votes, in our choices, and in our care of earth’s creatures, big and small.

Again, if nature is extinct, then so are we. You don’t have to hug a snail, but maybe hold one? See where the silver trail takes you… find out what you can do, even if it’s a tiny thing, and go from there?

What do you think?

Do small acts of care for the environment make a difference to the massive reality of deforestation and extinction?

Goodbye George. Go gently.

Yours in the free world. 

The image used in this post is from Istvan Mihaly.


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