Pond mud snail conservation breeding programme

In our Red Moss of Balerno reserve, a tiny, rare, and industrious waste recycler hides out in the mud at the bottom of unassuming peaty ponds, and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) is on a mission to help these mysterious wee beasties.

The pond mud snail is a very small species of freshwater aquatic snail, about the size of a fingernail, that typically lives in temporary habitats like ponds, marshes, and small ditches. Like many invertebrates, this species plays a key role in their ecosystem; pond mud snails eat dead vegetation and turn it into nutrients that go back into the wider food chain.

Mud snail – © Paul Baker

These little snails used to be found across Britain but, due to habitat loss and pollution, their distribution in Scotland is now limited to a handful of sites. The Red Moss of Balerno Nature Reserve in Edinburgh is one of the sites where this rare species of snail is clinging on. The reserve also happens to be on the doorstep of RZSS’ Edinburgh Zoo, where an ambitious conservation breeding project for the pond mud snail is taking place.

Edinburgh Zoo is home to a growing population of pond mud snails; our dedicated staff have been breeding them since 2017. Given that very few people had studied pond mud snails, little was known about them when they first arrived at our wildlife conservation charity. Luckily, since the project began, we have greatly expanded existing knowledge of how to care for this species so that it now thrives and breeds well at the zoo.

Pond Mud snail – © Ben Harrower

In 2018, RZSS and Buglife Scotland released pond mud snails into the Red Moss of Balerno for the first time, and we are now planning further, annual releases. As part of that plan, we are ramping up breeding at the zoo to produce as many snails as possible, and monitoring the Red Moss of Balerno every month to gain a better understanding of the conditions these snails face in the wild, and to inform our decision making. If you are walking through Red Moss and see some folks in RZSS jackets digging through the mud, give us a wave and come and have a chat about the project.

Another important part of our role as pond mud snail champions is to raise public awareness of these special snails, so we were thrilled to have been invited by the Scottish Wildlife Trust to one of their pond dipping events in celebration of World Bog Day on 24 July 2022. We got a chance to showcase the snails to many of the Trust’s members, and to learn about the critters that they share a home with!

World Bog Day

Our long-term goal for pond mud snails is to improve their overall conservation status in Scotland, and raise the profile of these immensely important waste recyclers and water quality indicator species.

If you want to learn more about the project or RZSS’ conservation work in general, please visit their website.

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In our Red Moss of Balerno reserve, a tiny, rare, and industrious waste recycler hides out in the mud at the bottom of unassuming peaty ponds, and the Royal Zoological …

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