Springsnails, members of the genus Pyrgulopsis, are a fully aquatic genus of species that live in streams and seeps across much of the western United States. Springsnails are a small species, with sizes ranging between 1.5 – 9 millimeters in length. Most springsnails live for approximately one year and will lay small eggs either seasonally or year-round depending on the species.
Springsnails play an important role in the environment by controlling the growth of algae and helping maintain the water quality of their aquatic habitat, which many animals rely on for survival. They also help to recycle much needed nutrients through the environment by consuming dead plants and other micro-biotic materials.
The Page springsnail (Pyrgulopsis morrisoni) is a small freshwater aquatic snail that is endemic to the series of springs near Oak Creek outside of Page Springs, Arizona. It is a medium-sized member of the Hydrobiid family, measuring between 2.5 – 3 millimeters as adults and can be as small as 0.3 millimeters at the time of hatching.
Three Forks springsnails (Pyrgulopsis trivialis) are found in the Three Forks Springs and Boneyard Bog in the White Mountains of east-central Arizona. The total size of their current habitat is only 0.1 km². They can reach 2 – 2.5 millimeters as adults and have a dark brown to black coloration to their shell.
The populations of all twelve springsnail species are in decline in Arizona. The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) considers the Page springsnail a “Species of Greatest Conservation Need,” while the Three Forks springsnail was listed as “Endangered” in 2012 under the Endangered Species Act. Reasons for the decline of the Page and Three Forks springsnails include ground water depletion, predation by invasive species such as crayfish, habitat destruction by elk and cattle and the effects of wildfire on stream quality and flooding.
There are conservation efforts in place to help slow or reverse the factors contributing to the decline of springsnail species. Field conservation efforts include controlling invasive crayfish species populations and non-native fish and protecting habitats from cattle and elk by installing fencing to keep the animals from wallowing in the springsnails’ habitats.
At the Phoenix Zoo
Beginning in 2008, the Phoenix Zoo collaborated with the AGFD and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to maintain an assurance population of Page and Three Forks springsnails. At The Arthur L. and Elaine V. Johnson Foundation Conservation Center at the Zoo, we maintain a refuge population of both Page and Three Forks springsnails. We are also developing important care and reproductive management guidelines for both species. The care and propagation techniques that we develop will help insure that these snails will survive and reproduce, and possibly be able to repopulate areas in the field where they have been lost. In addition, by studying these snails at the Johnson Center, we are able to learn about their life history and reproductive seasons in a way that informs field biologists so that they can understand population trends they may observe in the field.
Recently we achieved a successful hatching of Page springsnails at the Johnson Center. This is a first for the species in a lab setting. As we continue to refine our springsnail care protocol, we will share the valuable information with the AGFD and USFWS.