Friday, August 14, 2009

Alabama Snails

Coming soon to a port and backyard near you! Yuck ...

(AP) — MOBILE, Ala. -When wildlife officials realized that baseball-sized Amazonian snails had colonized the main pond in Mobile's Langan Park last year, their worst-case scenario involved the giant gastropods escaping into Three Mile Creek.

Now, a year later, that's exactly what's happened.

Distinctive, bubble-gum pink wads of snail eggs have been found downstream of the pond's dam, indicating that the snails are there as well.

The only thing keeping the apple snails out of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, according to biologists, is the time it will take them to move down the creek.

"Anything downstream of the lake is pretty much fair game at this point," said Dave Armstrong with the local office of Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, who discovered that the snails had escaped from the pond. "I'm really concerned. We're going to have to hustle to get something done before the winter."

Biologists fear the nonnative snails because they have been shown to eat 95 percent of the aquatic vegetation in some natural systems, leaving behind murky, algae-filled water. The list of the snail's preferred food items include all of Alabama's most common and important wetland plants: coontail, widgeongrass, spiderlillies, pickerelweed and bulltongue.

State officials believe that a few of the Amazonian snails were likely dumped into the pond after they had grown too large for a home aquarium. Pet stores sold the snails for years, but that practice is now illegal.

A year ago, egg masses were evident at Langan pond, but the snails themselves were hard to find. Last week, a walk to the pond's edge revealed 12 snails within 10 feet of each other, and egg cases caking every surface at the edge of the lake, from cypress knees to cattails to concrete culverts.

There is concern that the minor flooding associated with summer rains could be enough to wash young snails-which often attach themselves to pieces of wood floating in the water-all the way to the Mobile River.

"If this occurs, apple snails could invade more than 20,000 acres" of the delta, according to a report prepared by Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries biologists. Snails could lay eggs on ships and barges, and "the port of Mobile could become a source of apple snails to the Tombigbee River, Alabama River and ports outside of Alabama."

State biologists considered the invasive snails a pressing threat and had hoped to poison the pond and exterminate the invaders last summer.

Instead, those involved said last week, various debates took precedence, including who should pay for the extermination effort, who should be in charge of it, and how exactly to go about killing the notoriously hardy creatures.

In the end, no action was taken before the first cold snap of winter sent the big snails burrowing into the mud at the bottom of the pond to hibernate. Once buried, they cannot be poisoned.

Nobody dropped the ball, it just hasn't happened as quickly as we all wanted," Armstrong said. "We have been talking all along about the need to deal with them. It took awhile to figure out what to do. They are very hard to eradicate."

State officials now have a blueprint for wiping out the snails at a cost approaching $50,000. Any further delay reduces the chance of success, according to state biologist Ben Ricks, who drafted the plan.

"I think the only hang-up at this point are questions of manpower, funding, equipment and such," said Dan Otto, Mobile's parks superintendent. "To my mind, the problem is bigger than just the city. But I'm sure the city can help."

Step one involves killing all of the cattails and other emergent vegetation around and in the pond to help reduce places the snails can lay their eggs.

Then all of the pink egg masses will be scraped from the pond's banks and frozen, which kills the eggs.

After that, the lake itself will be poisoned with copper sulfate, killing the snails and some of the fish in the pond, which is a popular fishing spot supporting healthy populations of bass and bream. State officials said the pond would be restocked if needed.

Press-Register reporters have documented the presence of tilapia in the pond, another invasive species that threatens the integrity of the delta. Biologists said getting rid of the breeding population of that fish in the pond would also be beneficial.

After the pond is poisoned, inspections will be performed at regular intervals. A follow-up application of copper sulfate will likely be required, according to the biologists.

Great ... From the state that brought us slavery, missing front teeth, 'Roll Tide', inbreeding, and the KKK, we now get, Giant Invading Snails ...

Absolutely LOVE the fact that they've known about this problem for awhile, but that now it could just be a wee bit too late, as once the snails get out, they'll be on board shipments, in rivers, laying gross pink eggs everywhere, eating puppies, kittens, and babies ...

Of course, Alabama totally has a plan to poison the snails, thereby eliminating the problem ... except for its not funded, and the flooding is apparently washing the snails out of Alabama presently as is ...

Gee, Thanks Alabama!

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