Springsnails, member of the genus Pyrgulopsis, are a fully aquatic genus of species that live in streams and seeps across much of the Western United States. Springsnail are a small species, with sizes ranging between 1.5 to 9 millimeters in length. Most springsnails live for approximately one year and will lay small eggs either seasonally or year round depending on 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 are 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 the town of Page Springs Arizona. They are a medium sized member of the Hydrobiidfamily, measuring between 2.5- 3mm 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 adult sizes of around 2 – 2.5 millimeters and have a dark brown-black coloration to their shell.

At the Phoenix Zoo

The Conservation Center currently houses a refugium population of Page springsnails (Pyrgulopsis morrisoni) and Three Forks springsnails (Pyrgulopsis trivialis). Very little is known about either of these aquatic snails and the Phoenix Zoo is working to try and establish a husbandry protocol to create a breeding population that could be released back to the wild.

Beginning in 2008, the Phoenix Zoo collaborated with the Arizona Game and Fish Department and US Fish and Wildlife Service to maintain an assurance population of Page and Three Forks springsnails. The Three Forks springsnail was listed as “Endangered” in 2012 under the Endangered Species Act.  In fact, each of the twelve springsnail species native to Arizona is in decline.

Very little is known about how to care for springsnails, most work in the field is concentrated on identifying the different species and in determining their population size.  Phoenix Zoo has taken on the task of learning how to keep these tiny, but important invertebrates alive outside of their natural habitat.  The goal is to learn how to raise snails so that we can provide enough to return to the wild, in case there is a need.  The staff at the Phoenix Zoo’s Arthur L. & Elaine Johnson Native Species Conservation Center have been working to develop a husbandry strategy that results in propagation of springsnails. Recently we achieved a successful hatching of Page springsnails at the Conservation Center.  This is a first for this species in a lab setting.  Because of achievement, we are able to learn a great deal about how to care for springsnail in this setting.  As we continue to refine our springsnail care protocol. We will share this valuable information with partners at Arizona Game and Fish and USFWS.

Springsnail conservation

All twelve springsnail species populations in Arizona are in decline. The Arizona Game and Fish Department considers the Page springsnail a “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” while the Three Forks springsnail is a candidate for listing as Endangered 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 affecting springsnail species declines. Field conservation efforts include controlling invasive crayfish species populations and non-native fish, and restoring springsnail habitats.  Protecting habitats from cattle and elk is achieved by installing fencing to keep elk and cattle from wallowing in the streams and seeps that are home to springsnails. At the Phoenix Zoo’s Conservation Center, we maintain a refuge population of both Page springsnails, 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 repopulate areas in the field where they have been lost.  In addition, by studying these snails at the Conservation Center we are able to learn about their life history, and reproductive seasons in a way that informs the field biologists so that they can understand population trends they may observe in the field.