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World’s most lovelorn snail, Lonesome George, has died. His species is now extinct

This was Lonesome George, the last Hawaiian tree snail of his kind. He died New Year’s Day. Hawaii DLNR photo
This was Lonesome George, the last Hawaiian tree snail of his kind. He died New Year’s Day. Hawaii DLNR photo

The world’s most lovesick snail has died after a futile 14-year search for a mate.

“Unfortunately, he is survived by none,” said an obituary posted by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The Hawaiian tree snail, known as Lonesome George, was the last of his species, says the post.

He died on New Year’s Day.

National Geographic wrote about his death this week and referred to George as famous for being “the world’s loneliest snail.”

David Sischo, a biologist with the Hawaii Invertebrate Program, lamented the death on Facebook by noting George ”quietly carried millions of years of evolution — the entire genome and blueprint for how to make them — into oblivion.”

Explorers first identified the species (known as Achatinella apexfulva) around 1787 and reported the snails were common on the island of Oahu, Sischo wrote.

However, their numbers were greatly diminished two centuries later, after people began using the snails’ colorful shells for adornment, said the post.

“In 1997, the last 10 known Achatinella apexfulva were brought to a laboratory at the University of Hawaii for captive rearing. A few babies were born, but when the lab experienced a die-off for unknown reasons, all. . . perished except for one lone individual. That was George,” according to the state’s Facebook post.

When it became clear George’s species was headed for extinction, biologists at the university decided to gamble on a belief that “Jurassic Park” type cloning technology will one day exist.

“A small two-millimeter snippet of George’s foot was collected, using a sterile razor blade,” says the state’s post.

“This snippet of living tissue from George now remains alive in a deep freeze at the San Diego Zoo’s Frozen Zoo. While it is currently not possible to clone a snail, it certainly will be some day. George may yet live again.”

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