By Kerria Weaver
Apple snails are native to South America, where the invasive species can grow up to 6 inches, devour aquatic plants and pose health hazards to humans.
So what are these snails doing along the Lumber River in Robeson County?
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission isn’t sure, but scientists aren’t happy about the critters’ presence.
“The most common way apple snails invade is via people releasing a pet from an aquarium,” Anna Gurney, public relations manager for the commissioner, wrote in an email to the Border Belt Independent. “They are commonly sold in the aquarium/pet trade and those animals survive and reproduce.”
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A “concerned citizen” sent photos of the snails’ egg clusters to the Wildlife Resources Commission, the agency said in a news release this week. A state biologist collected more eggs from several areas along the Lumber River, and the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences confirmed the eggs belonged to apple snails.
More snails and eggs were near the Interstate 95 bridge over the river, at the High Hill Boating Access Area and in Fivemile Branch, the commission said.
While they are native to South America, apple snails – which prefer tropical and subtropical freshwater environments – have been found in Europe, Asia, and multiple areas of the United States. Their shells can be different colors, including yellow, blue or albino.
The snails can be recognized by their relatively large and pink egg clusters that are often found on solid surfaces such as tree trunks and concrete. They can also appear along the edges of streams, rivers, or ponds.
Apple snails are categorized as an aquatic nuisance species because they are a nonnative species and cause ecological or economic harm. Their voracious appetites can damage plants that native species rely on for food. The snails also eat amphibians’ eggs.
“They may carry rat lungworm, which can cause a potentially fatal disease in humans if the snails are eaten raw or undercooked,” the wildlife commission said. “The snail’s egg masses also contain a toxin which can cause skin and eye rashes.”
In nearly all cases, humans are the cause for the introduction of aquatic nuisance species – intentionally or unintentionally.
Due to their negative impact to the environment, it is illegal to transport, purchase, possess, sell or stock apple snails in North Carolina. Anyone who sees apple snails or egg masses is asked to take a photo and use the state’s online Aquatic Nuisance Species Reporting Tool.