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Hawai'i's Land Snails


Hawaiian Land Snails

Since the early nineteenth century Hawaiian Land Snails have been extensively studied and collected. There are species in Hawai'i that are found nowhere else in the world.


David Dwight Baldwin Hawaiian Land Snail Collection

David Dwight Baldwin was born in Honolulu, Oahu, on November 1831, to Dwight and Charlotte Fowler Baldwin who were missionaries and residents of the Baldwin Home in Lahaina, Maui from 1837 to 1871.  David Dwight Baldwin died on March 14, 1912, and is buried at the Makawao Cemetery, in Makawao, Maui.

D.D. Baldwin began the serious collection of snails about 1873. During his lifetime he became an authority on land snails and in the field of conchology he had one of the finest collections in the United States. Baldwin's collecting companions included many noteworthy early Hawaii naturalists: John T. Gulick, William Harper Pease, Andrew Garrett, and John and Oliver Emerson.

Baldwin began publishing descriptive papers dealing with land snails in 1877.  Baldwin's initial paper was first summary of Hawaiian Land Snails.  The demand for this paper prompted Baldwin, in 1893, to privately print a catalog of Land and Fresh Water Snails of the Hawaiian Islands.  This catalog although it was modest in form contained reliable classifications and geographical distributions.


The David Dwight Baldwin Hawaiian Shell Collection consists of 1,144 individual land snail specimens in 175 collection lots, 30 vials of marine snails and other snails.  Within the collection there are two lots of freshwater snails, and 1 lot of marine snails.  The Hawaiian land snail shell families Achatinellidae and Amastridae are the primary focus of the Baldwin collection. The Achatinellidae family is represented by snails from Oahu, Moloka`i, Lana`i, Maui, and Hawai`i.  Oahu Achatinellidae are represented by the genus Achatinella.  The Moloka`i, Lana`i, Maui and Hawai`i Achatinellidae are represented by the genus Partulina.


The D. D. Baldwin original collection is now scattered, parts of it remain with Baldwin family members, part at the Bailey House Museum in Wailuku, part at Yale University, and the greater part (including holotype and paratype material) at the B.P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu.  This collection remained in the Baldwin family until July 2003, when Bruce Baldwin Roeding donated it to the Maui Historical Society/Bailey House Museum, In Memory of Frances Baldwin Cameron, with affection, remembrance and gratitude from the Frances Baldwin Roeding family.



 Interesting Facts


  • Each species is usually found on a specific tree.
  • Native Hawaiian Tree Snails do little damage to the plants they live on.
  • They eat fungus from the surface of leaves.
  • One noticeable difference with each snail type is their appearance.
  • Very few species of the once plentiful Hawaiian Tree Snails are alive today.
  • The Oahu tree snail is one of the better-documented land snails.
  • Due to their limited mobility, ridges and valleys became significant contributors to their isolation.
  • Today snails are found in mountainous, dry regions to wet forests and shrub lands above 1,300 ft.
  • Tree snails give birth to only one or two babies a year.
  • Hawaiian Tree Snails are both male and female at the same time and all are able to give birth.


Disappearance of the Hawaiian Land Snails

Approximately 900 species (71%) of about 1,263 historically described species of Hawaiian land snails are extinct (S. Miller, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, personal communication). Additional extinct species are abundant in archaeological sites and sediments in limestone sinkholes (Gagné and Christensen 1985). 

They have disappeared because:

  • Polynesian settlers cleared lowland vegetation, the home for many snails.
  • European settlers introduced aliens that preyed upon the snails.
  • Shell collectors had a serious effect on snail populations.
  • Increased urban construction has crowded out native snails.
  • Alien predators, like cannibal snails and rats, are depleting their population.

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