Before Los Angeles was developed, the San Gabriel chestnut snail was a common sight from Compton to the San Gabriel Mountains. But today, experts say, it survives only in the Angeles National Forest and on adjacent private lands between Glendora and Altadena after being threatened by development, fire and climate change.
The snail — which officials say lives only in the Los Angeles area — is the focus of an Endangered Species Act protection request filed this week with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by the Center for Biological Diversity.
"Saving the San Gabriel chestnut snail may seem like a small matter, but snails actually do a lot of important things for humans," said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "These amazing little animals play critical roles in the environment and deserve to be protected like other imperiled wildlife."
The dark and glossy San Gabriel chestnut snail has a spiraled shell that is chestnut in color and is a little more than 1 inch wide. It has very specific habitat requirements and cannot relocate when its habitat is in harm's way, according to the biology center.
The organization also said that mollusks are the most at-risk group of animals globally because they are particularly vulnerable to human-caused changes in the environment, and scientists estimate that more than half of the mollusk species that have been evaluated are threatened with extinction.
"Protecting the environment for future generations includes safeguarding the underappreciated little species that keep natural processes working,'" Curry said.
The San Gabriel chestnut snail was discovered in 1938 and is being studied by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County , which runs a citizen-science project called SLIME, or Snails and slugs Living in Metropolitan Environments.