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Biologist discovers rare snail near Woodstock, Ont.


Species at Risk Biologist with the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority, Scott Gillingwater is very passionate about his work.

So much so, he and his wife, purchased 55 acres of wetlands and woodland near Woodstock in 2019 to ensure it would be protected for years to come.

Gillingwater lives and works on the property known as Snake Woods Nature Preserve (SWNP), which is provincially protected property as an area of natural scientific interest and also as significant wetland.

Last year, while doing research in the SWNP forest, he discovered something rare.

"It was actually by chance find, we were doing salamander surveys and I noticed an interesting looking snail,” said Gillingwater as he walked down a tree-lined forest holding the shell of a shagreen snail.

"The shagreen can be identified by these three teeth like objects on the opening of the shell,” explained Gillingwater.

The observation was first made in April 2023, corrected a year later via iNaturalist, a mobile app that connected Gillingwater with international experts who specialize in Canadian snails.

The shagreen snail is endangered both provincially and federally.

Shagreen snails were found in Snake Woods Nature Preserve near Woodstock, Ont. (Reta Ismail/CTV News London)"We kind of look at the shagreen as the canary in the coalmine, of that indicator species, that if something is impacting the most sensitive species, how long is it going to take before more resilient species to start to be impacted?” said Gillingwater.

Snake Woods Nature Preserve could be home to the last remaining mainland population of the rare snail in Canada, as their population has dwindled due to habitat loss.

Gillingwater said they have documented over 1700 species of plants and animals on the SWNP.

“Including some exceptionally rare moths, there’s one called Reversed Haploa Moth, very, very rare in Ontario. We get some rare migratory birds that do some stopovers on the property, number of plants, as well as we have good populations of some of our reptiles amphibians that are found in this region,” explained Gillingwater.

He continues to conduct research on his property and hopes one day to leave it all behind as a legacy for years to come.

"When it's time for us to go, hopefully donate that property to ensure it's protected forever,” said Gillingwater. Top Stories

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