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Death of George the Snail Matters

He was the last of his kind in Hawaii. Species Achatinella apexfulva is no more
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 8, 2019 12:51 PM CST

(Newser) – A 14-year-old Hawaiian land snail born in an effort to save its species has died as the last of its kind. The Achatinella apexfulva named George died in a state lab on New Year's Day, likely of old age, NPR reports. The first of some 750 species of Hawaiian land snails to be described in Western scientific literature, Achatinella apexfulva was mentioned as early as the 1780s by a British ship captain who received a shell on a lei. Then found hanging from trees in giant clusters, per the Guardian, the species had dwindled to just 10 known specimens by 1997, when a breeding program was launched. One of several offspring born of the effort, George—a hermaphrodite named after the last Pinta Island Galapagos tortoise—seemed bent on ignoring a world ill-suited for him. As wildlife biologist David Sischo tells NPR, "I very rarely saw him outside of his shell."

"To have that last individual perish under your watch, it's pretty depressing," adds Sischo, who believes the same fate awaits most other large tree snail species in the Hawaiian islands over the next decade. NPR reports some 30 snail species are close to extinction as a result of invasive species and climate change. The rosy wolfsnail, introduced to Hawaii from Florida in the 1950s to combat agricultural pests, "is probably the main driver of extinction," Sischo says. Not all hope is lost, however, even when it comes to Achatinella apexfulva, which fed on tree fungus, algae, and bacteria. A tiny sample of George's foot collected in 2017 awaits advances in snail cloning in San Diego's Frozen Zoo. (This is part of a "growing wave of extinctions.")

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