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Gorgeous and multicolored inhabitants of tropical hardwood hammocks, tree snails, of the genus Liguus, are known as "living jewels." They are two to three inches long, and are found only in extreme southern Florida and the Florida Keys. Fifty-two native color varieties exist, ranging from white to almost black, wrapped in whorls of emerald green, chestnut, orange, yellow or pink.
Tree snails feed on algae and fungus scraped from smooth-barked trees, such as wild tamarind, pigeon plum, myrsine and bustic. They slide along the bark on a thin layer of mucus secreted from their large foot. Although found throughout the year, they are most active during the rainy season, from May through September, especially after a heavy rain.
During the dry season, they go into a kind of hibernation called estivation, fastening themselves to a branch and sealing their shells with mucus to prevent drying out. Rainwater softens this seal and out they come. If they are ripped from a branch during dry season, they will dry out and die.
Tree snails mate during the late summer rains, and lay pea-sized pearlescent eggs in nests at the base of trees. The eggs remain in the nest until the following rainy season when the baby snails, known as "buttons," emerge and crawl up the tree.
The tree snail is listed as a species of special concern in Florida. They are threatened by illegal collection of their shells, pesticide spraying and destruction of habitat. If you come across these delicate jewels of the hammock, please do not disturb them.
Tree Snails Gems of the Everglades (National Geographic Magazine March, 1965)
© Juan C Aguero (juanKa)