US students on the hunt for carnivorous snails

A group of Michigan State University students from the United States are spending three weeks hunting for rare ...
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A group of Michigan State University students from the United States are spending three weeks hunting for rare carnivorous snail in the Marlborough Sounds.

A group of American zoology students are on the hunt for rare, flesh-eating snails in the Marlborough Sounds bush.

The group of 17 students from Michigan State University are trying to find out how many of the powelliphanta snails are in Endeavour Inlet in Queen Charlotte Sound.

The native New Zealand snails are critically endangered and are so elusive that usually only their shells are found on the forest floor.

Michigan State University student Sydney Watson rifles through leaf litter at Endeavour Inlet in search of carnivorous ...
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Michigan State University student Sydney Watson rifles through leaf litter at Endeavour Inlet in search of carnivorous snails.

Michigan State University professor Jeanette McGuire says she is "stoked" to be looking for the snails in their native habitat.

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She often runs research projects overseas for fieldwork practise, with her students set to spend 80 days in New Zealand, mostly in the North Island.

Michigan State University student Sydney Watson shows off the juvenile snail she found at Endeavour Inlet in the ...
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Michigan State University student Sydney Watson shows off the juvenile snail she found at Endeavour Inlet in the Marlborough Sounds.

Their work in the Marlborough Sounds was arranged with the Department of Conservation and the Endeavour Inlet Conservation Trust, Jeanette says.

"What makes it so exciting is that the snails are carnivorous, so they're one step up on the food chain from other snails." 

The snails live on earthworms and bring rich nutrients to the environment when they decompose, she says.

"They're great for maintaining the ecosystem and animal health."

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However, they are critically endangered and there should be strategies for eliminating predators such as possums, rats and pigs, she says.

The students are counting how many snails are in the area using a grid system, and collecting empty snail shells for powelliphanta snail expert Kath Walker of Massey University.

Zoology student Sydney Watson gets emotional when she talks about the research.

"Coming to New Zealand has always been a dream of mine ... there are such beautiful natural landscapes here," she says.

She recalls the excitement of finding her first snail on the trip. "I was rustling through the leaf litter, and there it was, just chilling on a leaf."

However, before the students can pat themselves on the back the snails will need to be confirmed as powelliphanta.

The study will wrap up on Saturday. The trust and the students will give a presentation on their findings at Furneaux Lodge on Sunday from 11am.

To find out more about the project or the presentation contact the trust at endeavourconservation@gmail.com

 - The Marlborough Express

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