• José H. Leal

Scorched Rainforest Snails?

While rummaging through my old 35 mm film slides (does anyone still remember them?), I found one I shot in August 1980 during an expedition sponsored by the Museu Nacional (Rio de Janeiro) to the Brazilian state of Pará, in the eastern Amazon Region. The slide shows a small (about half an inch) snail in the family Streptaxidae, genus Streptartemon, crawling on the rainforest litter, and flanked by two small white mushrooms. Most streptaxid snails are carnivorous, having evolved to eat other land snails. The species in the photo is most likely no exception to that. The photo evoked memories of that two-month, distinctive experience. How vividly the unique and magnificent images of the rainforest still endure.

Streptartemon species. Shell is about 13 mm (about 0.5 inch) in size. Photographed on 35mm Ektachrome slide film in the eastern Amazon Region. Nikon F2A camera with Micro-Nikkor 55mm lens and hand-held flash.

The Brazilian Amazon Rainforest has been recently in the news, thanks to the fires that are intentionally, uncontrollably, and criminally set for deforestation, with the final goal of expanding agricultural uses. (Natural fires, common in sub-temperate wooded areas, are very rare in tropical rainforests.) Deliberate fires in the Brazilian rainforest are nothing new (I drove through extensive burning or scorched areas in 1980 and again in 1984, and the practice goes back decades before then.) The large tropical rainforest biome is crucial to the stability of climate on Earth, as water that evaporates from the massive plant cover feeds and helps balance global rainfall. In addition, rainforests are hyperdiverse tropical systems that, as coral reefs, evolved over large expanses of time, housing tens of thousands of species that show a high degree of interdependence. Damage done to one species reverberates through the system and will cause damage to many more. As a result of those disgraceful fires, thousands of rainforest species of plants and animals may have gone extinct without having been studied or described by modern science. I just hope that my little Streptartemon species is not one of them. Read more about the fires at The Nature Conservancy website.