Once abundant and widespread throughout southern Florida, Liguus fasciatus, the large colorful tree snail, has lost most of its former habitats and is now listed as a “Species of Special Concern” by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission1. After the American Malacological Society meeting on Sanibel Island last August, I decided to spend an afternoon looking for Liguus in Big Cypress National Preserve on my way back to the Miami airport. I was excited because, although I had heard much about these snails, I had never seen one.
Traveling east on Route 41, my first stop was the Big Cypress’s Visitor Center. Despite a friendly ranger’s warning that the trails were flooded from the recent rains, I thought I could go on a hike to get some exercise and to do some nature photography. I walked pass a large ditch full of alligators in front of the Visitor Center and entered the trail. Less than a minute later I was in water up to my ankles when a thought occurred to me: “If there is so much water here, there could also be alligators!” I quickly turned around and went back to the Visitor Center to inquire about Liguus. This time, I followed the friendly ranger's advice who told me exactly where to go to find the snails: the two campgrounds along Route 94, a little side road off Route 41. But she did warn me about the mosquitos.
Alligator near Big Cypress National Preserve Visitor Center.
Consulting a map of Big Cypress, I got back in the car with wet shoes and all—one nice thing about driving a rental car. Soon I was on Route 94 traveling west—away from Miami. For about 10 minutes, I did my best to avoid the deep water-filled potholes that covered the unpaved road, and then, gave up and began to just ignore them—another nice thing about driving a rental car. When I got to the Pinecrest campground, I decided to have a look.
I was expecting mosquitos and had come prepared for them. In addition to a head net, I had with me a pair of long pants and an old long sleeved shirt. But little did I know that a million, wait, no, a billion of them would be waiting for me to try to spoil my day. Despite the stifling heat, I put everything on, grabbed my camera and got out. A fraction of a second later I was covered with mosquitos. Not surprisingly, the campground was deserted, which meant that the mosquitos had no one to go to, but me. I did manage to take a quick walk around the perimeter of the campground, but all I could see was an old empty Liguus shell at the base of a tree. The mosquitos were biting me through my shirt, pants and not letting me take my bare hands out of my pockets. How could there have been so many of them? And whose blood do they suck when there is no one around? While getting into the car, I inadvertently let a bunch of them in and then, spent five minutes trying to kill them before I could get back on the road again.
I noticed on the map that near the end of Route 94 there was a place marked "Tree Snail Hammock Trail". Figuring that I would definitely find Liguus there, I drove for another 20 minutes over many more potholes to reach a road block next to a locked gate in front of an unmarked deserted building. Disappointed, I drove back for another 30 minutes and as I was about to give up and head back to Miami, I saw the sign for the other campground, Mitchell Landing. Mostly out of desperation, I decided to check it out.
At one of the two camp clearings on a tree next to the road, I saw the Liguus on the left. I put on my "protective" gear and got out. After I quickly took some pictures of the snail, I ran along the road keeping my eyes on the trees. Before long, I spotted two more snails on a tree. Trying to ignore the countless mosquitos now covering my hands and biting my face through the net, I managed to get a few more pictures, including the one on the right below.
Having accomplished my mission, I got in the car and drove to Miami; I was happy, despite my itchy hands. At a gas station I tossed my shirt covered with the bloody remains of the slower mosquitos into a trash can.
Nothing can spoil a malacologist’s day.
1. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 2004. Florida’s endangered species,threatened species, and species of special concern. pdf