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Liguus Tree Snails of South Florida

Liguss Tree Snails
 Liguus Tree Snail - l.f. lossmanicus
Photos and Text By Jeff J.

One day while I was in the Everglades I stumbled upon these cool colorful little snails. Having no idea as to what they were I snapped a quick photo for reference and went on my way.

After returning home and downloading my photos I started a little research on these snails just out of curiosity. I didn't take long to realize reference on the subject was as rare as the snail itself. After about a year of on and off research I was able to correctly identify them and found some publications that were dedicated to information on the subject.

Liguss Tree Snails
 Liguus Tree Snail - l. f. barbouri

One of these is a book titled "The Liguus Tree Snails of South Florida" written by Henry T Close From his writings I learned not only how limited their range was but where and how to locate these last few small areas.

He states that there were 59 color varieties of Liguus Snails and it seems the only habitat in this country where they can survive is in extreme southern Florida.

Several of these varieties are now extinct and others are extremely rare. They range in color and pattern from white to black, solid to banded, dull to glossy. Vivid yellows, browns, blues, and greens are often displayed as stripes, flames, and washes.

With Henrys book in one hand and my camera in the other I headed back to see how many of these colorful snails I could find. I now knew that they would be found in sub-tropical hardwood hammocks and they preferred Jamaica dogwood and wild tamarind as well as poisonwood and pigeon plum trees. We did well in locating them and managed to get some photos. The majority of our find was located in the Big Cypress Preserve.

By some definition, they are a protected species, their classification with the state of Florida is "Species of Special Concern". I'm unsure as to exactly what degree of protection this classification offers the little buggers.

On my multiple trips into the area one could see the on going demise of these sub-tropical hammocks due to construction by private enterprise as well as the NPS.

Liguss Tree Snails
 Liguus Tree Snail
The following is from the publication titled The Florida Tree Snail, which is offered from the NPS. "The Florida Tree Snail, Liguus fasciatus, are native to Cuba, Hispaniola, the Isle of Pines and Florida. The lack of early fossil evidence of Liguus in Florida suggests that its arrival was relatively recent in geologic time. The former range of Liguus extended from Key West north to Boca Raton and west to Marco Island. Habitat destruction, however, has reduced that range to a few islands in the Florida Keys and the Ten Thousand Islands, and larger populations in the Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve. Because the snail is vulnerable to man, fire, and freeze, it's chances for expansion or protection outside of south Florida's public lands are poor."
Liguss Tree Snail - Big Cypress National Preserve
  Liguus Tree Snail & Climbing Vine Fern
I researched on a little to try and nail down more valid a time frame for its introduction to the Florida area. Henry T Close mentioned in his writings that it is disputed as to whether the American natives or the Cubans were originally responsible for the introduction. The time frame his book offered also was unclear but was reaching back far enough that it would be truly hard to claim it as a totally unnatural introduction. The fern you can see on the tree with the snails in these two photos is the Climbing Vine Fern (microgramma heyeropyilla). It's on the endangered species list in the state of Florida.
Endangered Climbing Vine Fern and Liguss Tree Snail
  Liguus Tree Snail
On my most recent trip back to Big Cypress Preserve, I returned to the location where we had seen our first tree Snail. It was in a hammock surrounding a small primitive campground somewhat managed by the NPS. Looking around the area we notice many dead Tree Snails lying about on the hammock floor. It seemed that the Poisonwood trees were being cut down, many of these trees had had Climbing Vine Ferns clustered on their trunks.

We spoke with a man camping there that had seen us searching through the hammock. He informed us that we needed to be careful, he had had a reaction to something there, his hands and arms were badly swollen with opened sores. He went on to tell us he had been to the doctor and was doing medication for his problem. His doctor had mentioned Poisonwood to him but he was not sure which tree was which. He said others that had been camping there developed the same problem and had left the area. We pointed out the Poisonwood for him, the first of which was in his pile of firewood there at his camp.

Liguus Tree Snail

The sap of the Poisonwood tree contains alkaloids that cause serious skin and mucus irritations after skin contact. It's to bad the NPS did not have enough "Special Concern" to have posted notice on the available bulletin board there that contact with this tree could be harmful or maybe a little information on the endangered and protected species in the immediate area.

I find it interesting that both the rare fern and the snail are found clinging to such a tree. Could it be their own survival tactic in an environment which seems to be offering them little to no protection?
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Related Links & Resources:
  Zebra Mussles
The Liguus Tree Snails of South Florida written by Henry T Close
  Compendium of Landshells by R. Abbott
  Books about Rare and Endangered Biota of Florida
  Stock Island Tree Snail Data Sheet - (pdf)
  Tree Snails
  Where To See Tree Snails
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