Florida Tree Snails Journal

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Florida Tree Snails (Liguus spp.)

Colorful Liguus tree snails live in the tropical hardwood hammocks of Florida; primarily the Everglades Coastal Ridge and the Florida Keys. Hammocks are slightly elevated sections of land which stay above water all year allowing hardwood trees to flourish. Florida tree snails are shelled mollusks which live on the bark of these hardwood trees, preferring species with smooth bark, such as the wild tamarind. Their 2-3" spiraled shells can be found in many color variations ranging from nearly solid dark brown to boldly striped with pink, yellow, and green to solid white. Originally from Cuba, these snails arrived in southern Florida thousands of years ago on floating logs blown ashore during hurricanes.

Florida tree snails are hermaphroditic, that is each individual has both male and female reproductive structures. Mating with another individual still needs to occur however, generally during July-August. In September snails crawl to the base of trees where they hollow out a shallow chamber in the soil where they lay 10-30 eggs.

Florida tree snails have a natural lifespan of 6-7 years and exhibit clearly defined growth marks indicating the yearly arrest in shell growth. Upon sensing dry conditions, shorter days, and lower temperatures, the snails find a protected location in a tree. They attach their shell to a tree by secreting a mucous seal to prevent dehydration during the winter period. They stop moving and eating during this period; this survival practice is called estivation. The life cycle of these beautiful snails begins anew in the early spring with the first warm rains. Eggs hatch and adult snails awake from estivation.

Beautiful and varied, these mollusks were once a popular collectors' item; over-collection greatly reduced their populations. As we continue to learn about the Florida tree snail one thing is clear; we share a habitat. Both people and tree snails need high ground to stay dry but tree snails need hardwood hammocks. Habitat destruction due to development is the biggest threat to the Florida tree snails. Several of the color variations are now extinct and others are extremly rare... Liguus is a "Species of Special Concern" in Florida.

artwork by John Sill ©2006 

text by Steve Sierigk

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