LELAND, N.C. (WNCN) — A federally endangered snail called the “Magnificent Ramshorn” has made its grand return to the wild.

The snails are aquatic and endemic—meaning they are found nowhere else on the planet outside of North Carolina’s Cape Fear River basin, according to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. When fully grown, the snails measure just 1.5 inches long with a maroon-colored body and leopard-like spots on their shells.

NCWRC officials released 2,000 Magnificent Ramshorns on Thursday in a pond in Brunswick County. The pond, located on NCWRC game lands, is their new home following 20 years of living only in captivity.

A close-up image of the Magnificent Ramshorn snail. (Courtesy NC Wildlife)

The snails are seen as a unique part of North Carolina’s natural history and heritage, according to Chief Christian Water of the NCWRC’s Inland Fisheries.

“The original wild populations died out from degradation of natural habitats and poor water quality,” said Waters. “It has been a labor of dedication, thoughtful planning, partnerships and support from our commissioners to make this extremely significant conservation win occur.”

The reintroduction of the Magnificent Ramshorn was possible through a permit issued in October 2022, paving the way for the reintroduction of 21 aquatic species. Making quite the splash, the Magnificent Ramshorn became the first of the 21 species to make its return to the wild, the NCWRC said, with a smaller batch release in early October.

Officials watched and documented how the snails would respond to their first ventures into the wild. Their monitoring surveys confirmed the stocking was a success, making the release of the 2,000 snails possible on Thursday.

“We are excited about the promising early results, representing a significant step toward species recovery,” said Emilia Omerberg, NCWRC Aquatic Snail Biologist. “Initial monitoring indicates the snails have survived and reproduced in the pond, including the first wild hatches since the early 2000s.”

The snails were propagated at NCWRC’s Conservation Aquaculture Center in Marion before they were taken to the release site.

NCWRC biologists will monitor the snails’ progress and may add more to the pond at a later date. They are researching potential future locations for stocking as well. The public can follow the progress of Magnificent Ramshorns and learn more about the species here.