Modern Day Desert Snails

Desert Snails

I recently got an e-mail which touches on a desert snail shell I recently found at Nopah:

Hello! Your geological adventures are so interesting and informative. Here is a screen shot of my Instagram message. Have you seen anything like this? Are these currently living creatures or extinct or fossils that are not stone… which isn’t exactly possible.

If you could point me in the right direction to someone who knows about these things that would be great. My 7 year old is 100% in love with geology.

Also, what info could you pass along to encourage her passion of rocks? What tools are the most fun we could use to help her investigations and learning?
Any professors or books that would be a great resource?

Thanks, A Reader

My reply:

Hello and I hope you are in good health. You most certainly have a present day snail shell. Where did you find it? Location is everything when finding something. There may be, for example, a snail in CO limited to just one mountain range. With that location, someone can better identify an object, compared to having it presented as something from somewhere in CO. Actually, with an exact location, someone can try to identify a specimen 20 years from now!

Desert snails exist today and leave behind their delicate shells when they die. As you know by their weight and fragility, they aren’t fossilized. Yet. You probably saw my gastropod photo from the Nopah, which I misidentified as a brachiopod (those are shells). I’m attaching it in this e-mail.

Professional ecologist Jim Boone identified what I had as definitely a desert snail, in fact, he once edited an academic paper on a snail that turned out to be new to science.  I have that paper belwo.

Apparently, it is very difficult to tell one desert snail from another, consequently, to be safe, one might call them by their genus name, which I think is Eremarionta. That’s like calling Oaks Quercus. All oaks are quercus, even if we don’t know which one we are looking at.

The one page paper you will read is academic and difficult, never-the-less, it mentions important scientists and papers regarding desert snails which you can use to go further.

Although Jim’s site is focused on Southern Nevada, he provides easy to read pages on rocks and vegetation. With your assistance, I am sure you could help your child puzzle out the pages on rocks and geology.

For local rocks, get hold of your local rock club. They love any new member, especially children. They are sometimes called Pebble Pups. (And they often get free stuff, which always makes me jealous :-))

As to reading, Diamond Dan has all sorts of easy to read and extremely accurate publications on minerals:

He has a number of free, downloadable .pdfs for kids to freely download during this COVID-19 practice. I can spare a few of his books if you want.

I wish you well and congratulations on your find. I hope you and your child continue searching. There is a fossil group on FB but any internet forum can get really nasty; I don’t generally don’t recommend them for beginners because of trolls. Best, Thomas

Snails on Yucca Mountain

Text by Will Pratt and the Internet, editing by Jim Boone

(All rights reserved to the authors)

The snails found in Abandoned Wash on Yucca Mountain are Panamint Desertsnails (Eremarionta greggi Miller, 1981) or an undescribed, new species. (Dr. Pratt is working on this question.) If they are E. greggi, then prior to finding these specimens on Yucca Mountain, this species was only known from two sites in California: Johnson Canyon in the Panamint Mountains (Inyo Co.), and in north-facing rockslides along the Silver Lake-Ft. Irwin Road in the Avawatz Mountains (San Bernardino Co.).

The Avawatz range is due south of the Ibex hills, separated by the valley of the Amargosa River. The distribution patterns of these helminthoglyptid snails date from the late Tertiary, and the Death Valley graben dates from the middle Pleistocene. During those time, the Avawatz were likely part of a continuous chain of montane habitats leading north from Avawatz through the Ibex Hills, Black Ridge, Grapevine Mountains, Bullfrog Hills, and Bare Mountain to Yucca Mountain. The Avawatz, Owlshead, Panamint, and Grapevine Mountains form a second such chain of formerly continuous habitat. Thus, it seems that this species could be found throughout these mountain ranges. Because people have not looked for snails in these mountain ranges, what we don’t know about land snail distribution in this region is enormously greater than what we do know.

The genus Eremarionta includes nine species in the United States; all are restricted to southeast California except for one species that extends into extreme western Arizona. This species extends from Temple Bar, Arizona, south along the eastern edge of the Colorado River into Baja California and west to Indio, CA:

(, 1997).

Eremarionta greggi and the Argus desertsnail, Eremariontoides argus (Edson, 1912) are the northernmost members of this group of snails (Eremarionta ranges eastward into southern AZ, in the Sonoran Desert). E. argus is listed in Pilsby’s Land Snail monograph as Micrarionta (Eremarionta) argus, lumped with E. greggi. Although the anatomy is distinctive, the shells cannot be reliably separated.

These snails are found in sheltered rockslides, generally on north-facing slopes with some runoff. While they live underground among the rocks, their shells can be found on the surface in areas they inhabit. It is likely that if we surveyed likely habitat on Yucca Mountain and surrounding montane areas, we would find more sites with these snails.

Prepared by:
Dr. William L. Pratt, Curator of Invertebrates
Marjorie Barrick Museum of Natural History
University of Nevada, Las Vegas Box 454009, Las Vegas, NV 89154-4009

Miller, W. B. 1981. A new genus and a new species of helminthoglyptid land snails from the Mojave Desert of California. Proc. Biol. Soc. Washington, 94: 437-444.

Editor’s note. If you want to go down the rabbit hole with native slugs and snails, check this out: