Normally in fish tanks, snails can harm native species

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 18, 2008

NATCHEZ — They’re creepy and they’re crawly, and they belong in a fish tank.

But the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce has found apple snails in lakes in southern Mississippi.

“Basically, everybody got them for their aquariums, and they got so big the people turned them loose,” Adams County Extension Service Director David Carter said.

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The snails, which are typically golf-ball sized but can grow to six inches in diameter, are native to south and central America, as well as the southeastern United States.

What concerns the department of agriculture about finding the snails is that they can overpopulate and steal resources from native species.

They are also known to harbor parasites, and in some parts of the world have become a significant pests to rice crops.

For those reasons, the department plans to conduct surveys, post signs and use check points to limit the transportation of the snails and their eggs.

The snail can be identified by its golden-brown to dark brown shell.

Its eggs, which are typically attached to vegetation, boat docks or piers above the water surface, are pink and usually found in finger-sized masses.

If the snails do make it into the Adams County waters, Carter said he is not worried about them.

“You would have to have a potload of them for it to make a difference,” he said.

But all the same, he discouraged their release into the wild.

“If you do have them in the aquarium, you should not turn them loose, and you should not release them into the ponds and rivers,” he said.

If you do come into contact with one of the giant snails, Carter advised that you should be sure to wash your hands with a germicidal soap, and that if you do try to eat them, they should be well boiled or cooked.

“I’d say that 99 percent of people would not be tempted to eat one of these if they came into contact with them,” Carter said.