And we’re not talking about
dinner. We’re talking about two elusive mollusks found only in
Arizona: the San Xavier talussnail and the Wet Canyon talussnail.
Clay Nelson, an Arizona Game and Fish Department biologist, says these
two snails are unique: the San Xavier talussnail is found in only a
50-by-150-yard area outside Tucson, and the Wet Canyon talussnail,
which is found in the Pinaleno Mountains, was not identified until
The snails are active only during monsoon season, which may amount to
just a matter of days each summer when they venture out to eat and
reproduce. The rest of the year these nickel-sized creatures crawl
deep into cracks in the rocks and seal their shells up until the next
“ That makes studying them quite a challenge,” says Nelson. “We wait
until the rains start near Tucson and then we jump in the truck and
head down that way, hoping to find even a few to observe.”
Why are snails important? Just like frogs, snails are indicator
species for ecosystem health. Biologists say each species in an
ecosystem is like a rivet on an aircraft in flight.
“ The question,” says biologist Jeff Sorensen, “ is how many rivets
can you lose before that aircraft—or in our case, the
ecosystem—crashes? What if that one species is a critical link for
If you’d like to learn more about Arizona’s many big—and
small—creatures, visit the Arizona Game and Fish Department Web site
at azgfd.com or call (602) 789-3500.