In the animal kingdom, the phylum of molluscs is the second in size, after that of the arthropods, with about 100,000 species from fossil (40,000) and living (60,000) varieties. Snails are part of the group of lunged gastropods, that is terrestrial molluscs, which do not have gills, but a lung structure that has allowed them to colonize air environments.

As well as many other animal and plant species, snails have also been overwhelmed by the consequences of human actions. The causes of the threat are many: the use of harmful pesticides, rampant urbanization, regimentation of river banks, uncontrolled water extraction or introduction of alien species are all factors that together have caused the gradual destruction of habitats.

In some cases, natural disasters, climate change and taking for collection purposes have exacerbated the overall picture even more.

Friend of the Earth, with the cooperation of the “La Specola” Florence University Natural History Museum, has activated a three-year research project for the study, protection and conservation of two species of molluscs endemic to Tuscany that are endangered and at serious risk of extinction: The Etruscan Melanopsis and the Xerosecta giustii.

The species

Melanopsis etrusca

La Melanopsis etrusca (Brot, 1862) è un gasteropode acquidulcicolo di dimensioni medio-piccole (circa 12 mm di lunghezza) la cui distribuzione è legata a sorgenti di acque termo-minerali nella sola Maremma Toscana; risultano ancora ignoti alcuni dettagli sul ciclo vitale come il tipo di e riproduzione. Proprio per la peculiarità del suo habitat e per la contrazione dell’areale di distribuzione, questa specie è protetta a livello regionale ed è classificata come “Endangered” dall’Unione Internazionale per la Conservazione della Natura (IUCN), nonostante anch’essa sia protetta da una specifica normativa promulgata dalla Regione Toscana e che sia indicata come specie target nei piani di azione regionali.

Xerosecta giustii

The Xerosecta giustii (Batons & Favilli, 1996) is a medium sized lunged earth hermaphrodite, linked to ? environments and distributed over a limited strip of the Grosseto Metal Hills; it has a depressed shell with a clockwise winding, typical of most gastropods. The ventral part has a large navel; a sort of crater created by the winding of the coil that is in the ventral part of the shell. Its distribution is limited to two very limited areas of Tuscany. Given its rarity and the very limited habitat in which it lives, the species is included in the IUCN lists as “Critically Endangered“.

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The project

The project operates on several fronts; on the one hand the improvement of the natural sites and on the other the breeding of the ex situ species, for the release of the specimens bred into nature. The first stages involve the genetic study of the natural populations and the development of the breeding techniques of both species.

Two separate farms were set up: one for the M. Etrusca at the Mondo Marino Aquarium in Massa Marittima (Grosseto) and one for the X. Giustii at the snail farming company “The Maremma snail” in Campagnatico (Grosseto). Both sites have been designed to recreate the natural habitats of the species, ideal for their reproduction. The project also includes outreach and educational activities to make the public aware of the importance of biodiversity protection.

Save the snails of Italy is an innovative project not only from a scientific point of view, but also because it involves at the same time the academic world, public administrations – Campiglia Marittima, Massa Marittima and Grosseto councils – and private individuals. In addition to the Museum, Friend of the Earth availed itself of the scientific support of international experts from the University of Rennes (France) and Canada.

La Toscana non è l’unica regione d’Italia a ospitare specie di chiocciole in via di estinzione. Secondo i dati contenuti all’interno delle Liste Rosse dell’Unione Internazionale per la Conservazione della Natura (IUCN), è noto che sono alcune decine le specie di gasteropodi, meglio noti come chiocciole, a rischio (Endangered) e a grave rischio di estinzione (Critically Endangered), sparse su tutto il territorio italiano.

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