You may think there’s not much mystery to a snail, but the Noonday Globe is one of the rarest and least studied creatures in the Pisgah-Nantahala region. Known by its scientific name, Petera clarki nantahala, this little snail was believed to only live in a two mile stretch of land in the southern part of the Nantahala River Gorge. After the winter fires of 2016, biologists discovered the snails to exist in more places than originally thought.
In 1978, the snail was added to the federal endangered species list. In March of 2017, worried that the snail wouldn’t have survived the fires, a group of biologists searched the land. In the ashes of leaf litter, according to Gary Peeples of Asheville Ecological Services, the scientists found shells. Soon, as spring arrived and moisture gathered on the fresh plants, live snails were found too. Although still endangered, scientists estimate there are nearly 3,000 individuals living within a five mile stretch.
The reproductive habits and diets of the Noonday globe are still unknown, but what we do know is the Nantahala Gorge is home to calcium-rich rocks and soil which provides what snails need to make their shells. The snails also prefer the steepness, shade, and dampness. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, biologists hypothesize that the snail was more widely distributed before highways and railroads were built. When the forest canopy began to disappear, so did the shade, allowing more sunlight in. The lower slopes dried up, pushing the snails higher up the gorge. Additionally, as the habitat was altered, non-native plants like Japanese honeysuckle invaded the natural plant and animal society.
Extinction is a normal process in nature. However, air and water pollution, the clearing of forests, wetland reduction, and human-induced climate changes have caused an escalation in extinctions. Animals, like snails, assist in keeping the forests and wetlands healthy, which, in turn, help filter the air and water. Because we know so little about them, it’s hard to know all of these snails’ roles in the forest, but we do know that the network of life in the forest needs to be maintained to keep the them healthy. Already, wild plants and animals have provided half of all pharmaceutical drugs in the U.S. If the Noonday globe disappears before we can study it, we’ll never know what we’ve lost.
Encourage the Forest Service to protect more areas of the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest for snails and the other critters—known and unknown—that depend on it for their survival.