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Bitter Lake News January 2024

Big Trouble For Little Snails
By Eric Dow

Koster’s Springsnail is a small federally endangered aquatic snail that lives only in spring-fed habitats. They improve water quality by feeding on algae and are an important part of the food web as they provide food for fish. It used to be found at locations throughout Chaves County; however, due to habitat loss, it currently lives only at a few protected springs and sinkholes at Bitter Lake NWR. Extreme heat combined with the failure of the summer monsoons in 2023 caused portions of Bitter Creek, one of the last remaining strongholds of the Koster’s Springsnail, to run dry. In mid-August there was a great deal of uncertainty about how much of the creek would go dry, forcing Bitter Lake Biologist Carl Jacobsen to recruit help and act fast to save the Koster’s Springsnail. On the morning of September 9th, FWS refuge and fisheries staff with the aid of BLM biologists moved 1,500 Koster’s Springsnails from Bitter Creek to the Southwestern Native Aquatic Resource and Recovery Center in Dexter, New Mexico.

Friends of Bitter Lake January 2024 Newsletter

Springsnails require specific spring habitat to survive. This ecosystem is quickly disappearing from the desert southwest as demand for water increases. Further, how best to care for them in captivity is not well understood and previous efforts to raise other species have not been successful. While a great deal of thought and planning was put into the snail rescue, there was a consistent worry that the snails would not survive due to their strict habitat requirements. Amazingly, our snails not only survived, but reproduced in captivity.
On October 17th we brought the snails we saved from the drying creek along with several hundred new baby snails to a temporary snail lab at Bitter Lake NWR. Once some rain arrived along with the seasonal slowing of agricultural irrigation the spring flow of Bitter Creek recovered enough for us to safely release the snails back to their natural home. In order to know how many snails we were going to release and how many of those snails were born in captivity we needed to conduct a census of the captive snails. Our initial expectation was that we could count and measure all the snails in a couple of days, allowing us to release the snails by the end of that week. However, because they range in height from 0.4mm to 4mm and like to burrow in sand, finding all the snails proved to be exceptionally difficult. Over the next 2 months hundreds of hours were spent in the lab sifting through sand and hunched over microscopes in search of tiny snails.

Continue reading 'Big Trouble For Little Snails' and more in the January 2024 Newsletter

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