Scaly-Foot Snail Makes Red List of Endangered Species

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The scaly-foot snail, found in hydrothermal vents in the Indian Ocean, and researched by two Southampton-linked professionals has now been added to the IUCN Red List of endangered species.The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) maintains a ‘Red list’ of endangered species. They use the following categories; Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild and Extinct. Chrysomallon squamiferum, otherwise called the scaly-foot snail falls into the endangered category. Over 105,700 species have been assessed for the Red List, and 27% of all assessed species are threatened with extinction.

There are 9754 other species in the Endangered list, and 18 others in the Deep Marine category, but none found in hydrothermal vents. Hydrothermal vents are splits on the seafloor which generate hot water. They are usually caused by the movement of tectonic plates. The Scaly-foot Snail is found between 1.7 and 2.8km underwater, in the Indian Ocean, far off the coast of Madagascar. It was granted endangered status as all of its three habitats have active exploratory licenses granted. Exploratory licenses, granted by the United Nations International Seabed Authority (ISA) give an organisation exclusive permission to research an area and evaluate its existing and future mineral deposits, and investigate the ease and cost with which these can be extracted. These licenses allow limited extraction of mineral deposits, and testing of seabed mining technology. Polymetallic sulphide mineral resources form at the snail’s natural habitats are valuable, and so the habitats are being investigated by Chinese and Germans firms.

The scaly-foot snail is one of the top 10 astounding marine species of the decade (2007-17). It is named such as it’s ‘foot’ displays hundreds of armour-like hardened sclerites. Coate in iron sulfide, they have a black metallic appearance.

The snail was officially described as a new species by a global team of researchers including Dr Jon Copley, Associate Professor in Ocean Exploration & Public Engagement at Southampton. Recent Southampton MSci Marine Biology graduate, Elin Thomas is amongst those credited on the IUCN Red List assessment that formally identifies the snail as endangered.

Commenting on the discovery and subsequent classification, Dr Copley said:

Congratulations to my colleagues for successfully making the case for the scaly-foot snail to be added to the IUCN Red List as an endangered species – the first animal from deep-sea hydrothermal vents to do so.

Dr Copley was also delighted that a Southampton Marine Biology graduates, was one of those responsible for the scaly-foot snail’s IUCN Endangered Red Listing.

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