Ok ok, technically that doesn’t exist, but we are making it happen :)
So…..what the heck is a Polymita and why are we so into them here at Animalia?
Polymitas are a genus of large, air breathing land snails. That sounds much pretty intimidating, but they are docile, friendly little critters. Today we are focused on the Polymita Picta, a very special and unique snail endemic to Cuba!
As you can see, the Polymita Picta is a beautiful snail with vibrant color patterns. Every snail has a unique color design. They truly are something to behold, however, that is also leading to their demise. Polymita snails are under serious threat for a variety of reasons (habitat loss, climate change, invasive species) but the biggest is likely humans. Poachers have been illegally collecting these snails, killing them, and selling the shells around the world.
POLYMITAS ARE IMPORTANT - BIG TIME
It’s just a snail you might say. Well, not so fast.
Think for a second about the country of Cuba. What are the first things that come to your mind?
Our guess is you probably thought of Havana, dancing, nightlife, cigars, Castro, or Guantanamo Bay. All valid.
But did you know that Cuba actually has 95% forest cover? Now that doesn’t mean it’s 95% forest today, but it’s subtropical and tropical forests are the predominant biome.
Much of the Cuban forest is still intact today. This is partly due to the lack of economic development that Castro’s regime and it’s long standing international trade embargoes place on it. In fact, forest cover in Cuba increased from about 14% in 1956 to 21% today. Many expect things to change in Cuba away from its socialist past, and if they do, development will uptick, putting these forests at risk as we are seeing in Brazil right now with the Amazon.
So now is the time to stand up and protect them proactively, not reactively as we do in much of the world now. The biodiversity in Cuba is incredible! It has more plant species than any other country in the Caribbean, ranks 10th in the world in reptile diversity with 91 different species, and yes of course, is the only home in the world to the Polymita Picta!
While Cuba has actually done a pretty good job in protecting it’s forests and even adopting sustainable practices like organic farming under Castro (no, we are not condoning Castro or his regime, but there is nothing wrong with acknowledging some of the things Cuba has done to protect its natural environment) - they are doing a poor job in protecting Polymitas and enforcing illegal trafficking.
This is bad news. You see these snails are not just natural beauties, they are also rainforest engineers. What we mean by this is they serve a critical symbiotic role to trees. Namely in eating fungi that can cause trees disease and harm. They also feed on moss and lichens, which while not typically harmful to trees, can compete for resources needed for photosynthesis when in abundance some studies show. A lot of important species in Cuba from hawks to snakes rely on Polymitas as their food source. You know, that whole food chain thing.
Polymitas also enrich farming in Cuba. Coffee leaves in particular benefit from Polymitas eating harmful fungi, and who doesn’t love a good cup of Cuban coffee?
So yeah, Polymitas need our help.
ENTER THE NORVIS
Larger threatened species like elephants and pandas and rhinos get a lot of international support. A snail? Not so much. Psychologists say this is because we are drawn to animals with faces like our own, and expressions we can see and relate to. You might say, wait, nobody has the trunk of an elephant. True, but elephants are highly social creatures with emotions we can visually recognize, hence the relatability.
So who is gonna fight for the Polymita snails?
Norvis Hernandez, that’s who! Norvis is one of the most inspiring people we have ever met here at Animalia. She has dedicated her entire career and life to protecting the Polymitas. She knows by doing so, she’s protecting other wild species in Cuba as well, and the Cuban forest overall.
She is a Cuban biologist who loves Polymitas so much, she even made her own music video about them!
You’ll soon find out we made our own music video as well :)
Norvis and her small, scrappy, but incredible team have focused their efforts on the following:
Educating Cubans locally about the importance of Polymitas and reporting any illegal poaching they see. She aims to make culturally taboo to mess with these gastropods, and is focusing a lot on the youth.
Research in the field to measure population changes, particularly looking at Polymita density in key biodiversity zones
Working with local farmers to educate them about the benefits of Polymitas and adopting practices to protect them and help them flourish
Working with Cuban government to continue to push them to enforcing Polymita protection and translating for them the positive impact these snails have on the Cuban ecosystem and thus economy
Creating sustainable, ethical Polymita tourism where people can take photos, not shells!
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Norvis is reaching folks outside of Cuba. There are major internet restrictions in Cuba and many apps we often use today and take for granted are blocked.
This is also a problem in reaching larger US marketplaces that are not doing their part in cutting off illegal sales of Polymita shells. For example, look at our exchange with Ebay just last week.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Now we come to our ask of you!
As a way to support Polymita conservation, we made a very special, limited run line of Hoodies and Sweats with the fashion brand DeerDana.
These are made of 100% recycled cotton, are fantastically comfortable and lightweight (perfect for spring and fall), and purchasing them supports Polymita conservation & spreads awareness.
All of our Newsletter subscribers get 15% off! Just use the code POLYMITA in checkout.