Marked on my iCalendar for over a month, I was quite anxious to partake in the Macaulay Honors College’s “Central Park BioBlitz,” on Monday, August 26th.
My first concern was not being able to find the North Meadow Recreation Center inside the park, but with the help of a few fellow Macaulay students I was able to arrive on time and get the afternoon started with my peers.
Although I had hoped that I’d get to look at fish or turtles, I was placed in perhaps the smallest group of the entire bunch – that of Mollusks. Yes, I had to look it up as well because I only knew that the category included snails. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary (3rd Edition), mollusk is defined as “an invertebrate of a large phylum that includes snails, slugs, mussels, and octopuses. They have a soft, unsegmented body and live in aquatic or damp habitats, and most kinds have an external calcareous shell.” Fittingly, our 8-person group expedition was dedicated towards the search for snails and slugs.
One of our leaders, Mr. Matthew Wills, an avid naturalist, showed us the shells of snails he had collected from his own Brooklyn backyard to give us an idea of what we were looking for. I was shocked that snails could be so small – their shells ranging from barely a centimeter to a couple of inches in length.
Immediately, of course, we thought: “How on earth are we going to search for and find an organism so tiny in this massive park?” Our other guide, Dr. David Franz, retired Biology professor from Brooklyn College, acknowledged that it might be a challenge to find the snails, but that the task was doable if we knew where to look.
Our first issue was that it had not rained for a few days, so the ground was dry – an inhabitable space for slugs and snails which rely on damp areas underneath leaf litter, rocks, branches, and in water. Secondly, the snails, as I mentioned, are so small in size that our exploration was going to require some heavy duty dirt searching – a terrifying thought for a mysophobe like myself.
Our group journeyed from the Recreational Center from around 97th Street to the Ramble … about 20 blocks away. It was a long walk, but along the way Matthew shared tons of facts about snails – including their average size, anatomy, and presence in other cultures.
Dr. Franz found the first couple of snails our group collected – and an empty snail shell – in the Ramble underneath a large tree branch. The damp dirt below the branch was welcoming for the several snails. Although we only collected a couple from this space, I am sure that there were probably several others that we could not see because of the snails’ dark color and small size. We did, however, look at several other insects and bugs living alongside the snails including centipedes (or what looked like it), spiders, and other fast moving organisms with tons of legs!
Once the snails were in our possession, they crawled out of their shells and revealed their long bodies – approximately one to two inches in length. One snail in particular emerged from its own shell and attempted to crawl into an empty shell that was also in our collection jar. It was a fascinating sight to see. Take a look at some of the photos from our Central Park adventure here on Matthew Wills’ blog!
Our second collection took place along a stream of water. Under large rocks and branches, we searched through the water for snails and luckily found a couple of more. By this time lots of clouds were moving in and it had lightly drizzled – making the search for snails a bit easier for us.
The remainder of our expedition included some more walking though the Ramble as well as learning how to look for poison ivy and concluded at Central Park’s lake where we found the shells of cicadas and even spotted a frog!
At the end of our long walk back to the North Meadow Recreation Center we were able to observe our snails under a microscope and get an up-close look at the snails.
I did not know what to expect from our Bioblitz project, but it was an incredibly interesting experience. I did not realize the extent to which the information we gathered from the park was of such value and importance as well as the sheer magnitude of the park. There is much to explore and learn from the miles of greenery that is Central Park.