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)
||Named in recognition of Ron Caldwell’s important contributions in land snail research in Belize.
||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.
||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.
||Blue Creek Shaft
||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.
||Named in honor of Steven Brewer, an extraordinary and passionate botanist who has spent countless hours exploring and cataloging Belize’s outstanding plant life.
||Bladen Cave Snail
||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.
||Belize Cave Snail
||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.
||Macal River Cave Snail
||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.
||Blue Creek Cave Snail
||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.
||Levisa is Latin for smooth.
||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.
||Striatae means striate in Latin.
||Named in honor of Colin Young in recognition of his outstanding work in the field of conservation and biology in Belize.
||Named in honor of the Bladen Nature Reserve, the “crown jewel” of Belize’s numerous protected areas.
||Maya Mountain Rotadiscus
||Named in honor of Ernesto and Aurora Garcia Saqui for their extraordinary contributions to conservation, Mayan cultural preservation, art and alternative healing in Belize.
||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.
||Oak Ridge Teardrop
||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.