The Cheat Three-toothed Land Snail
Scientific Name: Triodopsis platysayoides
Despite abundant habitat, the Cheat threetooth snail is rarely seen, as even expert snail hunters average days of searching between new finds. This elusive animal rarely parts contact with damp rock, and is often found deep beneath boulders or overhangs, or on vertical surfaces. Sweet birch and great laurel frequently shade its haunts, though it can be found in almost any canyon forest type.
Like many land snails, the Cheat threetooth has a calcium carbonate shell that houses internal organs and protects it from drying out. The spiral shell is about 22 millimeters in diameter, a little smaller than a quarter. From an opening in the shell the animal can extrude its muscular foot, and its head with four antennae. The antennae are basically noses, or chemoreceptors, although the top two antennae also include simple eyes at the tips. Its soft parts are covered with channels to circulate slime, which keeps it damp and helps with traction for crawling.
“Threetooth” is a bit of a misnomer, as it has only one, and it isn’t really a tooth – it’s a denticle, a bump of shell material in the shell opening (aperture). Most of its close relatives have three of these denticles. The denticle may help the animal balance its shell while crawling
The Cheat threetooth is most active in May, although even then it appears to pass much of its time half-extended from its shell in a zombie-like trance. However, it can move gracefully and quickly when needed. It appears to feed upon decaying leaf litter among the rocks, but may also consume items on rock surfaces such as algae and lichens. Most animals reach maturity in their second year, when the shell develops a widened (reflected) lip, and about half of the animals found are adults. Mature animals, like most of our eastern land snails, are both male and female (hermaphroditic), so both of two mating individuals may lay eggs.
The Cheat three-tooth was listed as Threatened by the US Fish & Wildlife Service in 1978, although it was believed to survive on only a few hectares at the time. Since then it has been found over a ten-mile stretch, but a number of new threats to the animal have been identified as well.
More than half of the Cheat threetooth’s known range lies upon private timber and mining lands. Public lands anchor the north end of the Cheat River Canyon, but the Snake Hill Wildlife Management Area and Coopers Rock State Forest still lack formal snail protections. Coopers Rock, a famous Morgantown-area scenic overlook and rock-climbing spot, is where the snail was first found (the type locality). It was described in 1933 by Stanley Brooks.
Climbing and rock scrambling at Coopers Rock was identified as one of the first threats to the snail, but such activities have since been moved away from snail sites. However, road building and logging still occur on the private lands within the canyon, and are allowed on the public lands as well, under varying levels of review.
A previous settlement agreement reached between Friends of Blackwater and Allegheny Wood Products, has resulted in 1200 Acres of endangered snail habitat being protected in Cheat Canyon.
Information excerpted from a report by Ken Hotopp.
Cheat Canyon Settlement Protects 1,400 Acres of Cheat Three-toothed Land Snail Habitat.