Photo/Illutration “Kayanomi-kanimori” sea snails seen hiding in gaps of rocks (Provided by Hiroshi Fukuda, an associate professor of malacology at Okayama University)

It’s fair to say that research into ways to protect an endangered sea snail called “Kayanomi-kanimori,” or Clypeomorus bifasciata as it is known academically, had proceeded at a snail’s pace.

For years, experts were stumped. But everything changed after they came across a years-long study of the creature by science club high school students in Reihoku, Kumamoto Prefecture.

Successive members of the prefectural Amakusa Takushin Senior High School’s club have been studying the secrets of the ecology of Kayanomi-kanimori since 2013.

Hiroshi Fukuda, an associate professor of malacology at Okayama University who has expertise as a snail taxonomist, called the students’ research findings exceptional and said they were worthy of being published in an international journal “with pride.”

Miyu Noda, a second-year student and current member of the club based in the school’s Marine Building, regards the sea snail, a member of the of the family Cerithiidae, as a familiar creature as she is engaged in related research on a daily basis.

The sea snail with shell measures a little less than 2 centimeters.

Although the sea creature is found in colonies at a beach only minutes from the school, it is designated as a near-threatened species on the Environment Ministry’s Red List and listed in the Vulnerable (VU) category by the prefectural government.

It is considered to be either extinct or too small in number in areas around the Shikoku and Honshu regions.

Its detailed ecology had remained a mystery.

A “Kayanomi-kanimori” sea snail (Provided by Hiroshi Fukuda)

But the students scored great successes breeding Kayanomi-kanimori to understand its egg-laying behavior and growth process.

In 2019, they even succeeded in hatching larvae from eggs and helping them grow into young shells.

“From A to Z, everything is full of surprises,” said Fukuda of the students’ research, noting that it is also rare to determine the biology of any member of the family Cerithiidae bred in captivity.

In academic circles until now, it had been considered virtually impossible to keep records of how the sea snail lays eggs and grows in an artificial environment because of a tendency among Kayanomi-kanimori colonies to die out en masse for no apparent reason.

The science club’s project occasionally won plaudits in the local community and elsewhere. The students also presented their findings for the senior high school division of a science conference.

After reading an article about their project published on a local newspaper’s website, Fukuda said he felt he had stumbled on something important.

He praised the students for being able to shed light on the biology of the endangered sea snail when even experts have given up. Fukuda said the students’ accumulated knowledge could directly lead to the sea snail’s conservation.

“For our next step, we want to compare its DNA with that of an individual from another area,” said Ayano Ishihara, a second-year student.