Pūpūharakeke (Flax Snails)

Thursday 19 December 2019

New Zealand is home to a huge diversity of land snails from minuscule (in land snail terms) to massive.

Flax snails

Flax snails vary in size between species. Many of these snails are endangered.

The well-known carnivorous Powelliphanta snails are on the sizeable side, as are the lesser-known herbivores pūpūharakeke (flax snail) Placostylus. Recently the Museum received a donation of Placostylus shells from Museum Research Associate Dr Ian Payton.

Historically, flax snails were widespread in Northland, but since human settlement and the introduction of mammalian predators snail populations have been reduced to small, isolated pockets on the mainland and New Zealand’s northern offshore islands.

Placostylus feed mostly on native broadleaf species such as karaka, kohekohe and rangiora (bushman's friend). They shelter in flax (probably where the name comes from) and other native plants such as whauwhaupaku (five finger) and pōhutukawa.

An estimated 2,000 species of land snail live in Aotearoa New Zealand, but many are still still undiscovered and undescribed. Collections like this help researchers understand the diversity and distribution of this group of snails, which is important for conservation efforts.

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