The beautiful Polymitas are exclusive to Cuba

The beautiful Polymitas are exclusive to Cuba

Environment

BY: YAHUMILA HIDALGO CERUTO, PHOTO: DANY HERNÁNDEZ HERNÁNDEZ

The Polymita picta, known as the Cuban national snail, is a beautiful endemic mollusk species in danger of extinction, exclusive to eastern Cuba, which gained second place in Mollusk of the Year 2021, a competition organized by the Translational Biodiversity Genomics Centre and Unitas Malacologica (International Society of Malacologists).

International contest reminds of urgency to protect Polymita picta snail

Of the Cuban candidate, the site explained that they possess possibly the most beautifully colored snail shell in the world, two to three centimeters wide, in yellow, brown, red, green, white, black or orange, and with elegant spiral bands.

The final winner chosen, out of 120 nominees, was the Great Argonaut (Argonauta argo), through a two-week public vote on the website and social networks.

International contest reminds of urgency to protect Polymita picta snail

According to this digital platform, some 21,927 votes were cast from more than 126 countries, 36% of which went to the winner, with 6,377 votes for the Polymita. They were followed by the cave clam (Congeria kusceri), the snakeskin chiton (Sypharochiton pelliserpentis) and the ram’s horn squid (Spirula spirula).

The winner will have its genome completely sequenced by the LOEWE-Center TBG Frankfurt, Germany. In the case of Polymita it would provide the basis for understanding molecular processes important for its color polymorphism, mating physiology and ecology. As these Cuban snails are threatened due to loss of habitat and poaching, genomic resources would help determine the size and diversity of the remaining population and promote the preservation of their ecosystem.

The Polymita picta inhabit exclusively the municipalities of Baracoa and Maisí, in the eastern province of Guantánamo. They feed on mosses and lichens that grow on trees and limit their metabolism. Therefore, they protect the plants in which they live, i.e. they are beneficial to local agriculture, mainly coffee plantations.

The genus Polymita includes five other species, also endemic to Cuba, all of great beauty and polychromy. There are also five subspecies of Polymita picta.

The striking shells and the destruction of their habitats have put them on the verge of extinction even though state laws regulate their sale and promote their conservation.

International contest reminds of urgency to protect Polymita picta snail

To combat their illegal trade, the General Customs of the Republic is governed by Resolution 160 of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, which establishes regulations to protect a broad list of species significant for biodiversity.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has agreed to include the Polymita genus in its Appendix for protection against exploitation through international trade.

They have co-existed with humans in areas that depend on agriculture and tourism. Experts speak of the importance of insisting on environmental education to create awareness so that they are not seen as beautiful souvenirs, but as living beings that should not be extracted from their natural environment or wiped out to use their shells for handicraft purposes.

Protected areas are currently promoting their conservation through scientific studies and environmental education projects for the local population and national and foreign tourism.

Two examples are the Outstanding Natural Element Cañón del Yumurí and the Lomas de Santa Teresa Protected Natural Landscape, both managed by the Flora and Fauna Business Group, where the subspecies Polymita picta nigrolimbata and Polymita picta fuscolimbata are studied and protected.