Springsnails, members of the genus Pyrgulopsis, are fully aquatic snails living in streams and seeps across much of the western United States. Springsnails are small species, with sizes ranging between 1.5 – 9 millimeters in length. Most springsnails live for approximately one year and will lay small eggs either seasonally or year-round depending on the species and climate.
Springsnails play an important role in the environment by controlling the growth of algae and helping maintain the water quality of their aquatic habitat, which many animals rely on for survival. They also help to recycle essential nutrients through the environment by consuming dead plants and other micro-biotic materials.
The Huachuca springsnail (Pyrgulopsis thompsoni), currently housed at the Zoo, is native to Arizona and inhabits roughly a couple dozen isolated springs. It is a medium-sized member of the family Hydrobiidae, varying in shell coloration and measuring between 1.7 – 3 millimeters as adults.
The populations of all known springsnail species native to Arizona are in decline due to varying circumstances, including groundwater depletion, predation by invasive species such as crayfish, habitat destruction by elk and cattle, and the effects of wildfire on stream quality and flooding. The Huachuca springsnail is not listed as a Threatened or Endangered Species under the US Endangered Species Act, but is considered a “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” by the Arizona Game & Fish Department.
There are conservation efforts in place to help slow or reverse the factors contributing to the decline of springsnail species. Field conservation efforts include controlling invasive crayfish species and non-native fish populations, as well as protecting habitats from cattle and elk by installing fencing to keep the animals from wallowing in the springsnails’ habitats.
how we help
The Phoenix Zoo has collaborated with the Arizona Game & Fish Department and US Fish and Wildlife Service since 2008 to maintain springsnail populations at the Zoo. We have maintained a breeding population of Huachuca springsnails since 2018. The care and propagation techniques we develop for these snails can help us in the future with efforts to conserve more imperiled species of springsnails. In addition, by studying these snails, we can learn about their life history and reproductive seasons, which in turn provides greater insight to the field biologists who survey and manage wild populations of these species. We have been successful in rearing Huachuca, Three Forks, and Page springsnails at the Zoo.