Although they often go unnoticed, snails perform vital functions for the ecosystem, such as feeding squirrels and providing calcium in the shells of bird eggs.
“If you care about conservation, or if you care about other species, if you care about biodiversity, then snails are an important part of that biodiversity,” Pearce said. “In Pennsylvania, we have 130 species and 119 of those, right here in Allegheny County.”
The talk will highlight the research Pearce has done involving the state’s snail species over the last dozen years.
“We are in a position to be able to say with a great deal of confidence which ones are rare and which ones are common,” he said.
Pearce said this knowledge is important because if a species is listed as rare, it can disrupt construction plans if the snail is found on the land.
He noted that one particular species which measures roughly one millimeter, or the thickness of a credit card, was thought to be rare, but is now known as the most prevalent species in the state.
“If you looked at the maps that are published in 1985, it’s known from 13 counties in Pennsylvania,” he said. “Pennsylvania has 67 counties, so it actually looks like kind of a rare snail. In March of 2014, I found it in the last county, so it’s in every county.”
Pearce said the discussion will also address what defines a mollusk and the roles certain lesser-known mollusks including squids and freshwater clams play in an ecosystem.
“We do have clams living in our rivers here,” he said. “They’re cleaning the water. They pump 25 gallons of water a day, each one…and they’re filtering out the impurities.”
The free event takes place from 7 – 9 p.m. and guests can register on the Science Center website.