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Species at Risk

Banff Springs Snail

Physella johnsoni

What is Parks Canada doing to help save the Banff springs snail?

Research and Monitoring

Close-up of a Banff springs snail.
The snail has dark eyes and a shell that spirals to the left.
© Parks Canada / M. & L Degner / 2002

To facilitate the recovery of the Banff springs snail, Parks Canada has been collecting scientific data on every aspect of the snail and its habitat, from the chemistry of the spring water to the flora and fauna that make up the thermal spring ecosystems. Aquatic specialists have completed an inventory of the algae, mosses and invertebrates of the area. They've surveyed the plants in many of the Sulphur Mountain thermal springs. They've even studied the dragonflies and microbes.

The snail's reproductive biology and ecological role is an area of particular interest among park biologists, who also collect information on the snail's population dynamics and its distribution within the various thermal pools and their outflow streams. Scientists regularly monitor the physical and chemical attributes of the water at all of the springs the snail has inhabited. Among the readings scientists take are temperature, pH (acidity), salinity (amount of salt) and dissolved oxygen. Scientists also monitor spring flow rates, water levels and the degree of disturbance to the snail habitat. The more we can learn about this rare snail and its habitat, the better our chances of saving it from extinction!

Recovery Actions

Close-up of a Banff springs snail on a microbial mat.
The Banff springs snail is the very first living mollusc to be assessed as a threatened species by COSEWIC.
© Parks Canada / M. & L Degner / 2002

Although the snail once occupied nine of the thermal springs on Sulphur Mountain, the populations in four of the springs declined and eventually disappeared. A plan for the recovery of the snail was approved by Parks Canada in 2002. This plan outlined steps for re-establishing Banff springs snail populations in two of the thermal springs where it once lived. Reintroduction efforts began in 2002, when 50 adult snails were taken from Lower Middle Spring to seed a new colony in Upper Middle Spring. Although their numbers initially declined, the population quickly began to increase. A year later, the operation was repeated at Kidney Spring, with the introduction of 50 adult snails. Today, snail colonies are thriving in seven of the thermal springs on Sulphur Mountain.

Meanwhile, park biologists are doing everything they can to protect and enhance the snail's fragile habitat. Banff springs snail sites are protected under the federal Canada National Parks Act, as well as under the Species at Risk Act. Some sites have been closed to the public, and the park has increased surveillance and security measures, erected signs prohibiting all disturbances, and imposed fines for vandalism, trespassing and unlawful activities. The installation of a motion-sensitive surveillance and alarm system at the Basin Spring pool has helped cut down on illegal swimming.

Public Education

Species at Risk - Who Knew?

Thermal springs are sensitive ecosystems and, throughout the world, several species of thermal springs snails have become extinct in the last 100 years. Parks Canada is working to ensure that Banff's most endangered species won't suffer a similar fate.

Raising public awareness about the plight of the Banff springs snail is an important milestone on the snail's road to recovery. As its long-term prospects for survival depend on our willingness to take responsibility for its survival, fostering a sense of stewardship among local residents and park visitors is all that is keeping this species from extinction.

Park staff and others conduct educational workshops and guided walks targeting elementary and secondary school students, scientists, teachers and outdoor educators, and tour operators. Other educational initiatives include the presentation of scientific papers at regional, national and international conferences and work with the local and national media to raise the profile of the snail. Reporters and elementary school students have participated in snail recovery efforts and the snail has made it onto the pages of local, regional and national newspapers. It was even featured on the Discovery Channel!

Interpretive displays at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site of Canada chronicle recent research and recovery efforts. Informative signs and posters keep local residents, park staff and visitors up-to-date on how the snail is faring.

Working with Partners

Parks Canada is working with several partners to maintain and enhance the current snail populations and to re-establish populations in the springs they once inhabited. Some of these partners include:

  • the Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment Canada,
  • World Wildlife Fund Canada,
  • the Friends of Banff National Park,
  • the Geological Survey of Canada,
  • the University of Calgary,
  • the University of Manitoba and
  • the Bow Valley Naturalists.