Kanab amber snail (Oxyloma kanabense)

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Kanab amber snail fact file

Kanab amber snail description

GenusOyloma (1)

Despite being an air-breathing species, this beautiful snail is able to survive underwater for up to 36 hours – an amazing feat for such a small animal (3). The Kanab amber snail is characterised by an elongated first whorl and a stunning deep amber-purple colouration, as suggested by its common name (2). It has two pairs of tentacles, one of which bears eyes and can be withdrawn into the body (4) (5). Populations of Kanab amber snails are thought to be ‘relicts from the Pleistocene ice age’, when their preferred habitats of wetlands and springs were more prominent (6).

Length: 14 - 19 mm (2)
Width: 7 - 9 mm (2)

Kanab amber snail biology

Like many gastropods (9), the Kanab amber snail is a hermaphrodite, meaning that it has both male and female reproductive organs. This affords the Kanab amber snail the reproductive advantage of being able to self-fertilise (3), a trait that is useful for when suitable partners are not readily available.

Breeding occurs during summer, usually after June (10). After fertilisation, the Kanab amber snail deposits loose, gelatinous masses of eggs on the underside of stems of moist vegetation, or on dead stems of the crimson monkey-flower (Mimulus cardinalis) (7). The adults generally die in autumn after breeding, whereas all the young of the year become dormant in October or November (10). Affixing itself to leaves, rocks, stems or leaf litter, or simply closing the shell with an epiphragm without attaching to any particular substrate, the Kanab amber snail remains dormant throughout the cold winter months and does not become active again until the warmer months of March and April (10) (11) (12).

The diet of the Kanab amber snail consists of plant tissue, algae and bacteria, which the snail scrapes off plants using its ‘radula’, a ribbon-like structure in its mouth covered with numerous, fine teeth (6).


Kanab amber snail range

To date, only two populations of the Kanab amber snail are known, both of which can be found on the Colorado plateau in the Grand Canyon region, USA. One of these populations is in southern Utah at ‘Three Lakes’, the other population is in Arizona at a riverside spring known as ‘Vasey’s Paradise’. It is believed that a third population may have existed at Kanab Canyon, Utah, but as this is not well documented it is still open to speculation. Further surveys may reveal additional populations of the Kanab amber snail (2) (7) (8).


Kanab amber snail habitat

Similar to most molluscs, the Kanab amber snail prefers moist environments and so is typically found in areas that contain water sources, such as springs. It favours areas occupied by its preferred vegetation, including watercress (Nasturtium species), monkey-flowers (Mimulus species), cattails (Typha species), sedges (Carex species), and rushes (Juncus species), which provide food and shelter (7) (8).


Kanab amber snail status

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered


Kanab amber snail threats

Changes to the Kanab amber snail’s habitat are thought to be the main reason explaining why this beautiful species has become endangered. In Arizona, high water discharges from the Glen Canyon Dam, situated upriver from the Grand Canyon National Park, results in snails being swept downstream and the loss of suitable habitat (2), while in Utah, the Kanab amber snail population is at risk due to the alteration of its habitat by a private landowner (2) (3).


Kanab amber snail conservation

The Arizona Game and Fish Department and the National Park Service have attempted to establish a new wild population of Kanab amber snails in Grand Canyon National Park. In September 1998, snails were taken from Vasey’s Paradise and introduced to three natural springs, in areas which would not be affected by dam operations. Further individuals were translocated in July 1999, to boost population densities and improve genetic variation. Since that initial stocking in 1998, a population seems to have established at one site, the Upper Elves Chasm (3). It is hoped that the successful establishment of this additional wild Kanab amber snail population in Arizona will greatly aid in the conservation of this rare species (3).


Find out more

To learn about conservation in the Grand Canyon region see:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


Simple plants that lack roots, stems and leaves but contain the green pigment chlorophyll. Most occur in marine and freshwater habitats.
A dry layer of mucus used by a snail to seal itself inside its shell.
The fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
A group of molluscs that have a well-defined head, an unsegmented body and a broad, flat foot. They can possess a single, usually coiled shell or no shell at all. Includes slugs, snails and limpets.
Genetic variation
The variety of genes within a particular species, population or breed causing differences in morphology, physiology and behaviour.
Possessing both male and female sex organs.
A diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following; a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.
Fusion of male and female sex cells (gametes) from one individual. In contrast, cross-fertilisation, two different individuals are involved.
When individual living organisms from one area have been transferred and released or planted in another area.
One coil of a snail’s shell.


  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2010)
  2. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (1995) Kanab Ambersnail Recovery Plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, Denver, Colorado. Available at:
  3. Arizona Game and Fish Department (July, 2010)
  4. Arizona Ecological Services Field Office (2001) Kanab Ambersnail: General Species Information. Arizona Ecological Services Field Office, Phoenix, Arizona. Available at:
  5. Little, C. (1983) The Colonisation of Land. Origins and Adaptations of Terrestrial Animals. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  6. National Park Service (June, 2010)
  7. Stevens, L.E., Protiva, F.R., Kubly, D.M., Meretsky, V.J. and Petterson, J.R. (1997) The Ecology of Kanab Ambersnail (Succineidae: Oxyloma haydeni kanabensis Pilsbry, 1948) at Vaseys Paradise, Grand Canyon, Arizona: Final Report. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Glen Canyon Environmental Studies Program Report, Flagstaff.
  8. Kubly, D.M. and Sorensen, J.A. (1997) Investigations of the Endangered Kanab Ambersnail: Monitoring, Genetic Studies, and Habitat Evaluation in Grand Canyon and Northern Arizona. Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program Technical Report 122. Arizona Game and Fish Department, Phoenix, Arizona.
  9. Moore, J. (2006) An Introduction to the Invertebrates. Second Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  10. Meretsky, V.J. and Stevens, L.E. (1998) Kanab ambersnail, an endangered succineid snail in southwestern USA. Tentacle, 8: 8-9.
  11. Interagency Kanab Ambersnail Monitoring Team (1998) The Endangered Kanab Ambersnail at Vaseys Paradise, Grand Canyon, Arizona: 1997 Final Report. Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, Flagstaff.
  12. Kubly, D.M., Meretsky, V.J., Nagy, J.C., Nelson, C., Petterson, J.R., Protiva, F.R., Stevens, L.E. and Sorensen, J.A. (1997) The Impacts of an Experimental Flood from Glen Canyon Dam on the Endangered Kanab Ambersnail at Vaseys Paradise, Grand Canyon, Arizona: Final Report. Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, Flagstaff.

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