Posted by: pointreyesscience | June 21, 2010

(Slow) march of the snails

A group of black turban snails congregate in a tidepool nook. Photo credit: Steve Lonhart (SIMoN/MBNMS)

For Point Reyes’ intertidal snails, it’s a hard knock life—literally. First, they contend with crashing waves and flying spray. Then come the hungry seabirds. Finally, snails spend hours inching across, well, inches of rock only to see their journeys come to a sudden stop in the fingers of a researcher.

The lima bean-sized angular unicorn snail, marble-shaped black turban snail or the periwinkle, barely bigger than a grain of sand, are citizens of some of California’s most diverse natural communities. They crawl around and over algae, mussels, crabs, barnacles, sea stars, anemones, limpets, chitons and countless other plants and animals during their slow sojourns. As threats to oceans rise, protecting this menagerie has become a top goal of staff at Point Reyes National Seashore.

Each year, researchers set out to census tidepools up and down the coast of California. The goal isn’t to frustrate snails but to keep an eye on the health of these eclectic communities. Over time, scientists will be able to watch as mussels creep toward the ocean or draw back and as algae grows thick or thin.

Today, I and four park service staffers are out on Santa Maria Creek, south of Limantour Beach at low-tide. Dry in our waders, we peel through squishy algae cover or peek through the breaks between muscles for mobile tidepool residents like limpets and chitons. Limpets look like seashells fastened tight to rock or sometimes to the tops of mussels. They barely budge when I give them a poke. Chitons shield themselves with smooth armor traced with horizontal lines.

Then there are the snails. We pluck them from their hiding places to measure them from one end of their shell to the other. But, just as the snails think all their efforts were for nothing, we gently put them down where we found them. Our snails are back to their long and winding road and, sitting at the end of it, friends and family eager to hear about their adventures.

-Daniel Strain

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