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New Zealand: 800 endangered snails freeze to death in conservation mishap

A technical glitch caused the deaths of 800 rare Powelliphanta giant land snails, which are carnivorous and can live for 20 years.
New zealand powelliphanta snail 11 11 2011Enlarge
New Zealand conservationists said 800 endangered Powelliphanta giant land snails accidentally froze to death in a technical mishap. (New Zealand Department of Conservation/Screengrab)

Some 800 endangered Powelliphanta giant land snails froze to death in New Zealand while being held in temperature controlled cool rooms under a conservation program.

Powelliphanta snails are carnivorous, eating mainly worms and slugs. They can measure up to 3.5 inches across and live up to 20 years.

In a solemn media release, New Zealand's Department of Conservation announced the loss of the snails, which were being kept at a holding facility in Hokitika while being relocated from an area slated for coal mining. 

A temperature probe in one of the containers had failed, the department explained.

While snails function well in cool environments, and can even withstand freezing temperatures for short periods of time, the Powelliphanta snails had been exposed to a prolonged period of cold.

"The snail deaths are very upsetting as staff are committed to the care of the snails, and previous to the loss had been proud to be celebrating a great captive breeding result," said John Lyall, technical support manager for New Zealand's West Coast Conservancy.

"The faulty temperature probe has been repaired and an alert system is being put in place to reduce the chance of reoccurrence," Lyall said.

Powelliphanta snails were named in honor of New Zealand malacologist Arthur William Baden Powell.

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