Friday, July 17, 2020

‘World’s most beautiful snails’ threatened by illegal trade

Spectacularly colored shells make these critically endangered Cuban snails highly sought after, but some are working to save them.

A collection of Cuban painted snails (Polymita picta) adds vibrant color to biologist Bernado Reyes-Tur's laboratory at the University of Oriente, Santiago de Cuba. All six species of the snails, which live only along the country's eastern coastline, are critically endangered.
Photograph by Bruno D'Amicis

By Douglas Main
Photographs by Bruno D'Amicis
National Geographic

Their shells come in a wide variety of colors: pastel yellow and pink, brick red and black, pearly white and ochre. Regardless of hue, the markings of the six species of Cuban painted snails, as they’re known, accentuate the whorled shape of their grape-size shells, which swirl in upon themselves. You can get lost gazing at these marvels of nature, as if you’re peering down a whimsically colored staircase that spirals on forever.

Cuba is home to the world’s greatest diversity of snails, but no others have shells with such a range of colors and complex patterns. Painted snails, in the genus Polymita, have long been sought by collectors, who sell the shells to tourists or trade them abroad to the United States and Europe. This demand is one reason why Cuba lists all six species as critically endangered, and why it’s been illegal for more than a decade to take these snails from the wild. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which regulates global commerce in wildlife, has banned their trade since 2017.

“For their striking aspect…these snails are considered the most beautiful on the planet,” says photographer Bruno D’Amicis. Their allure drew him from his hometown in Italy to Cuba in 2019 to make portraits of the snails and profile the small band of researchers and conservationists who are working to understand and protect them. By showing the snails in all their glory, D’Amicis hopes to spread awareness about the perils they face—not only illegal collecting but also land clearing, predation by invasive species, and climate change—and to spur efforts to secure their future.  Read more >>