Biologists discover snail species in Uinta Mountains that's likely native to Utah

An image of the boreal top snail, which measures just 4 millimeters. It's a species of snail that was discovered for the first time in Utah earlier this year.

An image of the boreal top snail, which measures just 4 millimeters. It's a species of snail that was discovered for the first time in Utah earlier this year. (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah wildlife biologists say they recently stumbled across a tiny snail species that's been hiding in Utah all along.

Officials with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said Wednesday biologists discovered the zoogenetes harpa snail, or boreal top snail, while in Dry Fork Canyon within the Uinta Mountains back in April, and then again the following month at Big Brush Creek Canyon also in the mountain range.

The boreal top snail measures just 4 millimeters, which is about the size of a grain of quinoa, according to the Division of Wildlife Resources. Like other snail species, it thrives most during the spring and fall seasons because of the mild and moist conditions.

The species has been documented elsewhere in North America, as well as Japan, Scandinavia, the Swiss Alps and northern Russia. According to Nature Serve Explorer, it's been found in Colorado and Montana among Western states.

State wildlife biologists say they believe the species is native to Utah and wasn't brought in from other regions of the world. It's now the 125th known snail species in Utah. Biologists added that its reddish-brown, cone-shaped shell differs from the shells of the other 124 snails in Utah.

While scientists were slow to catch up to find it, they are thrilled about its discovery. Jordon Detlor, the division's native aquatics biologist, said it's a type of finding that reminds him why he went into the field he's in.

"Finding a new species is very exciting because it shows that there are still many things to be learned and discovered when it comes to the natural world, and it shows that there is still a lot that we don't know yet," Detlor said in a statement.

The discovery was made as biologists use snails to help figure out ecosystem health in Utah.

"Because land snails feed on living and dead plant material and help break down leaf litter and rotting wood, they are an important piece of the puzzle for healthy, functional ecosystems," Detlor added. "They in turn are a food source for different insects, small mammals and even some birds, including grouse and turkeys. Snails are part of the rich diversity of wildlife that we enjoy here in Utah."

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