Fishermen beware: what may seem like a small rock in your shoe could easily be the culprit wreaking havoc in local ecosystems. The New Zealand Mudsnail , scientifically named Potamopyrgus antipodarum, is a tiny snail (about 3mm) with a shell that can vary from gray to brown. Contrary to their seemingly insignificant appearance, the New Zealand Mudsnails are an invasive species known to severely disrupt food chains and harm local aquatic life.
There are many features of the New Zealand Mudsnail that make it an excellent aquatic invasive species. As mentioned earlier, they are small and brown or gray, allowing them to be easily transferred via fishing equipment without being detected. They are also capable of surviving in many different temperature regimes and can survive up to 24 hours without water or up to 50 days in a damp environment. The mudsnails can reproduce quickly due to their asexuality and capacity for high density reproduction.
The small appearance and reproductive qualities of New Zealand Mudsnails has allowed them to rapidly make their way across the United States into California lakes and rivers. The snails originated in New Zealand but were found in the United Kingdom in as early as 1859. Throughout the twentieth century, the snails traveled through Europe, Australia, Japan, and eventually into the United States. Currently, all western U.S. states have the snails in their water systems, with the exception of New Mexico. The species poses many threats to the local ecosystems of these areas, particularly to California aquatic life. The mudsnails compete with and even replace invertebrates such as mayflies and stoneflies. By replacing these invertebrates, the entire food web is tampered with. They most directly have an effect on trout and native fish populations. Fishermen across the United States are urged to keep an eye out for these cunning critters to avoid any further transport. Otherwise, they soon will not have any fish to fish.
In many ways, awareness about the New Zealand Mudsnail is important because it can have a profound effect on the California ecosystem. I became primarily interested when I saw the full circle effect the mudsnails are creating with fishermen. The fishermen are the main vectors for their transportation and they are also the humans that are directly effected. The snails create a competition with other sea life that eventually cuts off the food supply for the fish. Without any fish, fishermen simply are not fishermen. I also do live in California and I have seen the mudsnails firsthand in the past. If, at the time, I had known about their detrimental effects to the ecosystem, perhaps I would have killed a few. This only furthers my conviction that awareness of aquatic invasive species is the key to ending any further spread and damage to ecosystems.
I think it is really interesting how the New Zealand Mudsnail has the ability to survive up to 24 hours with water and 50 days in a damp environment. Many of the creatures that we have learned about so far (such as the Python) have not been able to adapt to temperature fluctuations which contributes to natural population checks. However, with the Mudsnail, that natural check seems to be nonexistent. Therefore, I wonder what effective solution the government can think of besides simple warnings.