Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Land Snails and Millipede Transect, 2017

Article and pictures by Beth & Paul Pautler and Charlotte Hubbard.

Beth and Paul prepare for the hunt at Mile Marker 111.1 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Paul & Beth having fun searching for critters

In spring and summer of 2017 National Park staff and citizen scientists will inventory land snails and millipedes along the Blue Ridge Parkway. A national network, Hands on the Land (HOL), acts as a platform for volunteer training and a place for data collection. HOL is supported by Partners in Resource Education, which represents multiple federal agencies, several of which also support the Master Naturalist program. To find out more about the inventory and Hands on the Land, visit

Three BRFAL Chapter members, Paul P., Beth P. and Charlotte H. participated as volunteer snail hunters! Slugs and millipedes were also inventoried during the project, and we encountered many other interesting-but-not-inventoried creatures. Beth and Charlotte attended a day-long live training held at Peaks of Otter on May 6, that included lecture, lab and field training. Paul completed the on-line training found on the HOL website. The background that follows is taken from part of the volunteer training.


Land snails are an easily overlooked and understudied part of the ecology in the southern and central Appalachians. Of the more than 1,000 species known to occur in North America, 25 have been identified on the Parkway, but another 125 are likely to be found here, some of which may be rare or even endemic.

Land snails, semi-slugs, and slugs contribute significantly to decomposition and nitrification of soils through their decaying bodies and feces. Their dead shells are a principal source of calcium. Land snails recycle forest nutrients and are prey for a number of vertebrate (amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals) and invertebrate (insects, carnivorous snails) species. Carnivorous snails feed on earthworms, insect larvae, and other snails. Some species consume dead and rotting organic materials while others eat live plants, especially seedlings and tender plants. Though poorly understood, some snails prefer to eat fungi and may be an important factor in dispersal of fungal spores.

Land snails are important environmental indicators and biodiversity predictors…snails are among the most sensitive animals to pollutants, including road runoff and acidic rainfall. Land snail populations have dwindled in recent decades, in turn contributing to the decline of some species of birds that feed on them and depend on them as sources of calcium for creating egg shells.

((Put snail photos here)) Here are some of the species we collected on our two 2-hour sweeps of assigned GPS locations.

Each specimen was photographed in anterior, posterior and from above

Juicy slug with orange slime!
We became quite familiar-in more ways than one-with the millipedes we encountered. Beth became especially skilled at telling the male millipedes frothe females using the process described below.

Millipedes: Millipedes move quite slowly and many will ball up when threatened. Centipedes are faster and will bite if threatened, so let the centipedes go. Millipedes have two pairs of legs on most segments while centipedes have only a single pair of legs per segment. You will likely need your magnifying glass to observe the millipede. Pick up the millipede and gently coerce the millipede to open up for you. Count the body segments and on the seventh body segment confirm the pairs of legs. If you find only one set of legs look for the gonopods (small modified set of legs used in the reproductive process) and if you find them, you have found a male. Upon identification, male millipedes are dropped into a vial with alcohol for preservation.
             Found lotsa millipedes, further inspection required to determine sex

Snail hunters have to brave areas that most naturalists have learned to avoid or tread carefully within: Soggy ditches, rotting logs, damp leaf-litter and drainage areas at the base of trees or rocky places. We were fortunate to avoid encountering the scarier co-habitants of snails, although poison oak, biting insects and “what do you think that scat is from?” kept us alert to the hazards around us. We hope our efforts make a contribution to the inventory data. The National Park Service can use the soon-to-be analyzed information to better understand these residents of the Blue Ridge Parkway and what they contribute to the biodiversity of the southern and central Appalachians.
Some other interesting stuff found:

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