Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Snails on the Trail: Striped White Lip Land Snail

I headed out early this morning to look for birds and butterflies on the Chippewa River State Trail in Durand.

What caught my attention, however, was not flitting among the flowers or singing from the trees.  It was at my feet, leaving a slime trail as it slowly slithering across the macadam:   a land snail about the size of a quarter.

I'd seen one before, several years ago.  Back then I didn't have a clue what species it was.  I went to the internet and discovered that there are over 100 species of land snails in the Badger State.  Where to begin?

I'm not a shell collector, but I did meet one years ago at a wildlife workshop in Florida - R. Tucker Abbott.  What I remembered from his program was how approachable malacologists are.  If you have a question, just ask. 

That's what I planned to do - find a malacologist and ask him/her to look at my photo.

I started with the "ask a scientist" page at the UW-Green Bay website.  They didn't know, but they gave me the name of a malacologist (at a University out west) who specializes in Wisconsin land snails.  I sent him my photo.

He said the picture didn't show enough for identification - sorry.

I really wanted to know its name.

So I went to the Milwaukee Public Museum website and contacted their malacologist, Joan Jass.  She forwarded my photo to a colleague at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, who identified it based on the thin reddish-brown stripes on the shell.  The other shell colors, he said, are variable, but the stripes are key identification characteristic:   Striped White Lip, Webbhelix multilineata.

Dr. Jass also recommended a website where I could find out more about this creature.

The Striped White Lip can grow to a foot in diameter and up to 7" tall.  They live in wetlands and river floodplains from New York to Tennessee and west to Nebraska.   They feed on plants, rotting wood and fungi, bark and algae as well as empty snail shells, scat, sap, carrion, limestone and cement.

They are prey items for flies, firefly larvae, millipedes and beetles; other snails, turtles and salamanders; shrews and mice; and birds - thrushes, grouse and turkey.

When they're not crossing the Chippewa River State Trail, they can be found on skunk cabbage, moss hummocks, logs, rocks and on hillocks at the base of wetland shrubs.  If you go looking for them - watch out for all the poison ivy and stinging nettles along the Trail.

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