LIVE! IN THE WILD! It’s the amazing...the incredible...the magnificent ramshorn (Planorbella magnifica)!
No, we’re not in a Las Vegas magic show. We’re in a pond in Brunswick County, North Carolina, where magnificent ramshorn snails were recently released into the wild for the first time.
Our story begins in 1994, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized the need to conserve the magnificent ramshorn snail and designated it as a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Magnificent ramshorn snails are endemic to freshwater ponds in coastal North Carolina —meaning they cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Magnificent ramshorn snails were last seen in the wild in 2004. The loss of pond habitats and impaired water quality from saltwater intrusion, pollution and human alteration of aquatic vegetation communities posed significant threats to the species.
Although long considered no longer found in the wild, captive populations held by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Coastal Plain Conservation Group, and NC State University since 1994 ensured the survival of the species.
But that has all changed, as magnificent ramshorn snails are back in the wild!
While magicians never reveal their tricks, the Service and our partners are excited to share the magnificent ramshorn snails’ journey back to the wild.
Abracadabra...well, more like Endangered Species Act protections, a Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement and a Candidate Conservation Agreement
In the summer of 2023, the Service finalized the listing of the magnificent ramshorn as endangered. The Service also designated 739 acres in Brunswick County, North Carolina, as critical habitat for magnificent ramshorn. Two ponds are within the critical habitat designation - Orton Pond and Big Pond (also known as Pleasant Oaks Pond).
To reestablish ramshorn populations in the designated critical habitat areas, specific habitat conditions must be met so the snail will thrive. Working with state fish and wildlife agencies and our partners will help advance conservation efforts and the eventual recovery of the species.
The NC Wildlife Resources Commission recently received an ESA Section 10 Enhancement of Survival Permit from the Service for a Safe Harbor Agreement for 21 aquatic species, including the magnificent ramshorn. The 50-year agreements allow the state to reintroduce species listed and species proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act back into targeted historical locations while working with private and non-federal property owners. The agreement assures landowners that they will not be subjected to increased property use restrictions as a result of their efforts to either attract listed species to their property or increase the numbers or distribution of listed species already on their property. The combined power of these legal tools will remove obstacles and help the agencies work with private landowners to reintroduce the species to its historical range.
This is just an ordinary pond and when I snap my fingers it will have magnificent ramshorn snails in it!
Not quite. But wouldn’t that be amazing?
The NC Wildlife Resources Commission identified a pond on its game lands in Brunswick County that could serve as the first release site for magnificent ramshorn snails. The pond has been undergoing preparations to receive snails for over five years, including re-sloping the Northern bank, multiple rounds of native vegetation planting and the addition of lime and cotton seed meal to manipulate the pH to make it more suitable for the snails.
In early October, the NC Wildlife Resources Commission released a small batch of snails into a pond on the agency’s game lands in Brunswick County to see how the snails would respond. Service staff like Jennifer Archambault, the deputy field supervisor for the Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office, were on-site to lend a hand and offer high fives to all who have been involved in this process.
“Reintroduction at the Game Land marks the first time that magnificent ramshorn snails have been in a wild habitat in nearly 20 years,” said Archambault. “This is an exciting and momentous first step toward re-establishing the species in its native habitat and looking toward a future of recovery!”
And... monitoring surveys confirmed the release was a success!
“We are excited about the promising early results, representing a significant step toward species recovery,” said Emilia Omerberg, NC Wildlife Resource Commission aquatic snail biologist. “Initial monitoring indicates the snails have survived and reproduced in the pond, including the first wild hatches since the early 2000s.”
So why stop there?
On November 16, the NC Wildlife Resources Commission released an additional 2,000 snails into the pond.
“I am thrilled to see magnificent ramshorn snails released into the wild for the first time since its listing under the ESA,” said the Service’s Southeast Region Acting Regional Director Mike Oetker. “This species is a great example of the power of partnerships. Captive populations have been maintained by our partners, including the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s Marion Conservation Aquaculture Center, allowing us this opportunity to prevent the extinction of this rare snail. The recent listing of this species gives us and our partners the ability to ensure its survival.”
The return of magnificent ramshorn snails to the wild has been an incredible success, but we still have a long way to go toward species recovery.
When the Service proposed the magnificent ramshorn as endangered, we recognized that its conservation depends on maintaining multiple resilient populations over time. Our conservation strategy includes maintaining captive populations until there are enough wild populations that captive rearing is no longer needed. We will continue reintroducing the species to establish multiple wild populations that can persist into the future. The captive populations are currently stable and persisting, and we have plans to increase captive propagation capacity to support reintroduction into wild ponds.
“Conservation partners, such as landowners with suitable pond habitat, will be integral to successfully recovering the magnificent ramshorn,” said Archambault. “The recently established North Carolina Aquatic Safe Harbor Agreement in partnership with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission will help us to work with willing landowners to reintroduce the species in the wild and make strides toward recovery.”
The Endangered Species Act, along with the work of the Service and partners, has prevented the extinction of hundreds of imperiled species, as well as promoted the recovery of many others, and conserved the habitats upon which they depend. Today, hundreds of species are stable or improving thanks to work by tribes, federal agencies, state and local governments, conservation organizations and private citizens. We will continue searching for innovative ways to conserve threatened and endangered species.