The last known member of the snail species Achatinella apexfulva has died of natural causes in Hawaii.
When Lonesome George, a Pinta Island tortoise that was the last known member of his species, died in June 2012 in the Galapagos, conservationists worldwide lamented his passing. With him died the entire species known scientifically as Chelonoidis abingdoni.
Now Lonely George, the last known member of the snail species Achatinella apexfulva, too, has died of natural causes on an island of Hawaii. With him another unique species is gone from the face of the Earth.
“George died peacefully (at the ripe old age of 14) surrounded by its beloved branches in a tiny climate-controlled cage,” Hawaii News Now reported.
George, which was dubbed the “loneliest snail on Earth,” has become a poster boy for the plight of snails and other indigenous species in Hawaii. Raised at a breeding facility in Manoa, George lost all other known members of his species to disease, which earned this last survivor the nickname Lonely George.
Described by a local expert as “old and grizzled” “hermit,” George liked to stay inside his shell for extended period. Once tree snails like him were common in the forests of Hawaii, which were home to at least 752 types of snails. Yet habitat loss and invasive species have decimated the ranks of numerous endemic species, including snails.
“The passing of George, a member of the Achatinella apexfulva species and a tree snail who fed on tree fungus, algae and bacteria, epitomizes the decline of biodiversity on the Hawaiian islands, where climate change and invasive predators have taken a heavy toll on native animals and insects,” The Guardian explains. “Snails like George also played a part in the songs and stories of native Hawaiian culture, which holds that snails make sounds and are ‘the voice of the forest’.”
George’s death is a stark reminder of the fate that may well be awaiting numerous other species on the verge of extinction in the wild around the planet. “I’m sad, but really, I’m more angry because this was such a special species, and so few people knew about it,” laments Rebecca Rundell, an evolutionary biologist at State University of New York who once looked after George and other critically endangered snails.
“I know it [was] just a snail, but it represents a lot more,” adds David Sischo, a wildlife biologist based in Hawaii.