17 New Species of Land Snails Discovered in Belize

17 New Species of Land Snails Discovered in Belize

By Dan and Judy Dourson

The beautiful country of  Belize, known to the rest of the world for its stunning reef and adventure tourism, has a new claim to fame as home to seventeen new species of land snails! This information was uncovered thanks to a long-term study by Malacologists (scientists who study snails) Dan Dourson, Judy  Dourson, and Ron Caldwell. Along with  several well-trained Belizean biological field technicians, the  trio have been searching the leaf litter, epiphytes, deep caves,  sinkholes, and the remote sections of the Maya  Mountains for more than a decade. They have added new species of land snails to  science and many new land snail records for Belize.

Judy and Dan Dourson pose for a photo in Placencia, Belize.

The study began when husband and wife team, Dan and Judy Dourson, came to the country to assist BFREE in 2006. Dr. Ron Caldwell joined the Doursons through his affiliation with Lincoln  Memorial University in Tennessee.

So, you may ask, what’s the big deal about discovering 17 new species of snails? When the Doursons and Caldwell began surveying Belize, only 24 species of land snails were reported. Their research has added 135 species, a staggering 558% increase in land snail biodiversity for the country.

Even though snails rank as one of the most numerous and speciose groups of organisms on Earth, they remain largely unstudied. As a result, little is known of their importance in ecosystems. Land snails, like most invertebrates, suffer from being in a conservation “blind-spot”.

Every expedition into the Maya Mountains has yielded spectacular finds for the team. A 2016 National Geographic-Waitt Foundation Grand-funded and UNC Wilmington-led expedition looked at the functioning of a tropical ecosystem from the bottom up by studying the links between Harpy eagles (a top predator) and land snails who occupy the bottom of the food web. The links between these two divergent organisms were established by documenting Harpy eagle food that consumed land snails. The study also found two new species living at the bottom of a 100-meter deep sinkhole in the middle of the Bladen Nature Reserve. As a result, the Maya Mountains is considered to be one of the most important land snail regions in Central America and may exceed other areas of comparable size in terms of numbers of species and endemism.

The team’s long-term research resulted in the development of the first field guide for the region, Land Snails of Belize, A Chronicle of Diversity and Function and the first comprehensive publication since the early 1900s for Central America. The book includes species accounts and range maps for all 158 species. Many of the 17 new species described in the book were named to honor Belizeans and other conservationists.

Seventeen New Species to Science and Described from Belize (2018)

1 Hairy Lucidella Lucidella caldwelli Named in recognition of Ron Caldwell’s important contributions in land snail research in Belize.


2 Checkered Cone Drymaeus tzubi Named in honor of Belizean, Valentino Tzub of San Jose, Toledo District, one of Belize’s top biological field technicians. Valentino discovered many new land snail records and several new species to science including the recently described Eucalodium belizensis of southern Belize.


3 Rosy Marauder Euglandina fosteri In honor of award-winning wildlife filmmakers, Richard Foster & Carol Farneti Foster whose work has increased understanding of the natural world including the never before filmed interactions of Sibon snakes and land snails.


4 Blue Creek Shaft Pseudosubulina juancho In honor of Juan Cho, for his contribution to the environment by promoting and utilizing sustainable organic agricultural practices in the Toledo District of Belize to produce organic chocolate.


5 Montane Splinter Rectaxis breweri Named in honor of Steven Brewer, an extraordinary and passionate botanist who has spent countless hours exploring and cataloging Belize’s outstanding plant life.


6 Bladen Cave Snail Opeas marlini Named in honor of Jacob Marlin who has dedicated most of his life to passionately protecting the crown jewel of protected areas in Belize, the Bladen Nature Reserve.


7 Belize Cave Snail Leptopeas corwinii Named in recognition of Jeff Corwin, a conservation biologist who conducted research at Blue Creek Cave for a Master’s degree studying Central America bats and continues to educate the public about the natural world through his outstanding wildlife films.


8 Macal River Cave Snail Lamellaxis matola Named in honor of Sharon Matola, founder of the Belize Zoo for her dedication and perseverance in protecting Belize’s abandoned wildlife and commitment to education about the incredible wildlife of Belize.


9 Blue Creek Cave Snail Leptinaria doddi Named in honor of Frederick Dodd, founder of International Zoological Expeditions (IZE) who had the foresight to purchase and protect the wild jungles surrounding Blue Creek Cave, the only known location for the globally rare Blue Creek Cave Funnel.


10 Smooth Quill Brachypodella levisa Levisa is Latin for smooth.


11 Hairy Phora Thysanophora meermani Named in honor of Jan Meerman, an extraordinary Belizean biologist whose work to create a database for wildlife in Belize has been an invaluable resource.


12 Mountain Gloss Miradiscops striatae Striatae means striate in Latin.


13 Hillside Gloss Miradiscops youngii Named in honor of Colin Young in recognition of his outstanding work in the field of conservation and biology in Belize.


14 Bladen Gloss Miradiscops bladenensis Named in honor of the Bladen Nature Reserve, the “crown jewel” of Belize’s numerous protected areas.


15 Maya Mountain Rotadiscus Rotadiscus saqui Named in honor of Ernesto and Aurora Garcia Saqui for their extraordinary contributions to conservation, Mayan cultural preservation, art and alternative healing in Belize.


16 Ornate Crystal Chanomphalus angelae Named in honor of Dan and Judy’s daughter, Angela Dourson Christensen, a woman of uncommon courage and genuine honesty for which they are deeply proud.


17 Oak Ridge Teardrop Cecilioides  dicaprio Named in honor of American actor Leonardo Dicaprio for using the medium of film to bring attention to the challenges facing our natural world and planet and promoting sustainable tourism in Belize.





Winners Announced for the National Hicatee Poster Contest

BFREE and the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) are pleased to announce the winners of a national poster contest for primary school students.

  1. The Overall Winner was Seydi Medrano from Ambergris Caye Elementary School in San Pedro, Belize. (First image)
  2. The Winner of the 12-14 age group was Kevin Thurton from Hummingbird Elementary School in Belize City. (Second image)
  3. The Winner of the 9-11 age group was Ibrahiem Miller, Ladyville Evangelical School, northern Belize City. (Third image)

The poster contest’s theme was “Let’s make the hicatee our national reptile” and was a highlight of the second annual Hicatee Awareness Month in October 2018. The goal of this creative activity was to engage students in wildlife conservation and help raise awareness of the critically endangered Hicatee turtle.

Twenty-four posters were submitted from seven schools. All submissions were of outstanding quality and showed true compassion and admiration for the hicatee turtle. All of the drawings can be seen on BFREE’s Facebook Page (@BfreeBelize) under the album, “ 2018 Hicatee Awareness Month Poster Contest.”

The three winning drawings will be used to create 2019 Hicatee Awareness Month materials. These materials will be distributed to schools, organizations, and businesses in Belize.

Overall winner, Seydi is awarded a certificate from BFREE by Ambergris Caye Elementary School Principal, Denice Ryan.

Overall winner, Ms. Seydi Medrano shared, “sometimes people don’t really show compassion about wildlife, and I think they should start caring because God made everything for its own purpose and maybe He made the hicatees for a purpose and they deserve to live just like us.”

Kevin Thortun, winner in the 12-14 age group shared, “if there is something that you really care about, you should try to protect it or it might be gone soon.”

Ibrahiem Miller, winner in the 9-11 age group drew the hicatee surrounded by the Belize Flag, a black orchid, mahogany tree, Keel-billed Toucan, and tapir. He said, “I used Belize’s National Treasures in my drawing because I read the theme which says, “Let’s make the Hicatee our national reptile.” I wanted to surround the hicatee with all the other National Symbols.”

Ms. Alamina, of Hummingbird Elementary School, supported her students in creating a Hicatee Committee. The students of the Hicatee Committee hosted a Hicatee Booth at their Art Show/Book Fair where they shared information with visitors, created games to play, and handed out brochures they created. They even raised money for the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center.

Students from the Hummingbird Elementary Hicatee Committee pose for a photo at their Art Show/Book Fair where they had a table with information about the hicatee available.

When asked for advice to other educators who would like to start a Hicatee Committee at their school, Ms. Alamina said “The biggest advice would be to encourage students that their voices can be heard and they can make a difference.”

BFREE would like to extend gratitude to all the schools and participants and a special thanks to Ms. Denice Ryan, Principal of Ambergris Caye Elementary School for her guidance and support on this project. Hicatee Awareness Month will be celebrated again this October, with another poster contest and even more activities.  

The hicatee is disappearing, but together we can save it.

View photos of each of the posters submitted in the album here: 

2018 Hicatee Awareness Month Poster Contest Photos

Monkey River Watershed Association Annual Press Meeting

On Friday, February 1, the Monkey River Watershed Association hosted a community meeting in Monkey River Village. The purpose was to present the working document ‘A Road Map for the Restoration of the Monkey River, Its Watershed and Its Shore,”  to community members and the funding agency, the United Nations Development Programme/ Small Grants Programme.    Residents within the watershed have seen dramatic degradation of the river over their lifetimes. As a result, in 2016, the Monkey River Watershed Association (MRWA) was formed with the intention of saving the river and those communities that rely on the river’s health. This road map was created to help communicate the issues and guide the decisions of MRWA and its partners. The document describes the most likely causes of the river degradation and erosion problems and outlines a long-term vision for the restoration of the river and its watershed for the benefit of all of its users and downstream ecosystems.    The road map was produced by: The Monkey River Water Association Board of Directors, Dr. Peter Esselman, and Nilcia Xi. Additional support was provided by BFREE, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT), Fyffes Inc., Belize Hydrology Department, Toledo Institute for Development of Environment, Southern Environmental Association, and Ya’axche Conservation Trust.   Monkey River Watershed Board of Directors include: Mario Muschamp, President; Jacob Marlin, Chairman; Ornella Cadle, Secretary; Elroy Foreman, Board Member; and Audra Castellanos, Treasurer.  

Wild Cat Research is Alive and Well at BFREE!

Jungle Encounters owners, Debi and Ed Willoughby and their group pose in front of a ceiba tree at the BFREE Field Station.

By Debi Willoughby, owner of Jungle Encounters

Jungle Encounters is conducting a long term field research project at BFREE using trail cameras to gather information about the five species of wild cats native to Belize. The mission is to use this data to develop and maintain conservation practices throughout Belize that will benefit both the native wildlife as well as the local people. The owners of Jungle Encounters visit BFREE 2-3 times a year to maintain the trail cameras and meet with BFREE’s staff to discuss the progress of this project. BFREE’s head ranger, Sipriano Canti, is in charge of maintaining the cameras year-round and provides Jungle Encounters with critical information to keep the project moving forward.

Jungle Encounters recently invited a group of people to BFREE to help with the project. The trip began with an “initiation” into BFREE by hiking the 6 mile long trail that leads to BFREE’s compound. It was a long, rain-soaked walk that introduced the group to the different habitats surrounding BFREE. After a brief rest and time to dry off, the team had a course on trail cameras, how they work and how to use them. This allowed the team to prepare the trail cameras to be put out in the field. Early the next morning the team, guided by Sipriano Canti, hiked the jungle trails looking for locations to set out the cameras. As we hiked, Canti taught us about the flora and fauna of the jungle and pointed out wildlife that we came across. It was an enlightening hike!

A jaguar captured on a Jungle Encounters field cam at the BFREE Field Station.

After getting the cameras set up in the jungle, the team took a break from talking about wild cats to learn about the turtle conservation work BFREE is involved in. Jacob Marlin brought us to their Hicatee Conservation and Research Center to learn about the amazing work BFREE has been doing with the endangered Hicatee Turtle. It was a delight to learn how successful BFREE has been with this conservation work!

The team kept Canti busy with jungle night hikes and an early morning climb up the tower to watch the wild birds start their morning flight over the awaking jungle. We saw a kinkajou, family of howler monkeys, fer-de-lance, tayra, multiple birds and even heard a jaguar calling by the river!

The rest of the trip involved maintaining the trail cameras, reviewing camera data and learning how to analyze it; enjoying a refreshing swim in the Bladen River which is surrounded by jungle life; relaxing in hammocks in the compound and brainstorming on how to improve the wild cat project.

The team left with a greater understanding of our wild cat research, a new respect for Belize and it’s wildlife and unique lifelong memories that they will share forever!