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2020 Faculty Panel Award - Ari Coester

An Eulogy for Achatinella Mustinela

When we think of extinction, what comes to mind are large, charismatic mammals, such as tigers, rhinos, and elephants. Rarely do we think of less charismatic species like Hawaiian tree snails, though they have been waging a long war with extinction as well.

In 1955, the rosy wolfsnail, a specialized slug and snail predator, was introduced to Hawaii to eat the pest African land snails, another non-native species. However, instead of eating the African land snails, the rosy wolfsnails hunted native snail species. Because these invasive snails still hunt in Hawaii, many tree snail species found nowhere else are going extinct.

Since the native trees depend on the snails to clean fungus from their leaves, trees may become more susceptible to fungal disease outbreaks. If the native trees die, all species that depend on them for survival will suffer and potentially go extinct as well. These snails, therefore, are essential for ecosystem function, and losing them could cause ecosystem collapse.

The purpose of my artwork is to draw attention to the plight of these tree snails by depicting one of the endangered species, Achatinella mustinela. I hope that when people see a detailed and intricate portrait of a snail that they can realize how beautiful and charismatic they can be. I hope that this will inspire people to research the species and give to conservation efforts to help this and other tree snail species.

I chose Achatinella mustinela because of its striking coloration and patterning. The intricate geometric patterns on the shell contrast with its organic curved structure. The dark brown of the shell contrasts nicely with the cream patterning. The reflectiveness of the shell allowed me to experiment with reflected light to define the edges of the light brown part of the shell. The finely bumpy surface of the head allowed me to play with light in an interesting way. I shifted the colors of the snail to be warmer in order to make it seem more alive and increase viewer empathy. To contrast, I chose a cool green background.