HOUMA, La. — The invasive apple snails that have become common in the waterways of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes are expected to spread as far as Calcasieu Parish this year, according to experts.
“We’re sitting on the edge of something that’s about to bust loose over here,” said Bobby Reed, a senior fisheries adviser with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
The snails can lay 600-1,200 eggs every seven to 10 days for an estimated 35 weeks of the year. The eggs are known as clutches and look like pink bubblegum. When the snails hatch, they’re the size of a pin head and they float by the thousands on top of the water’s surface.
“That’s nature’s way of dispersing them through the wild,” Reed said.
Reed said experts are concerned that the snails will float into the pump systems that irrigate local rice and crawfish crops, where they would compete directly with the crawfish, as well as rip out any rice seed that sprouts. In late 2017, the snails were reported in crawfish ponds in the state.
“The can wipe out the farmer’s efforts real quick,” Reed said.
The snails are believed to have been first introduced to the state’s waters after Hurricane Katrina and have spread since then through flooding and attaching to boats and animals, such as otters, nutria and birds.
Apple snails are popular in the aquarium trade for their large size and handsome shells, and their local presence is most likely due to irresponsible aquarium owners, according to the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
The fist-sized mollusks from South America have been reported in 27 parishes.
The state’s Wildlife and Fisheries launched a 24-hour hotline last year to help track their spread across the state. Reed said he’s heard a lot of accounts about their impact, including fishermen around Houma pulling up their nets to find they didn’t catch a single crawfish, only apple snails.
Reed said he’s encouraging people not to handle the apple snails because of their potential to carry the rat lungworm parasite that can kill someone who gets infected.
He tells people to throw them in a bucket of bleach or crush them under their car tire.
“They’re almost a perfect invasive species,” Reed said.
To report sightings of apple snails or eggs, call 225-765-3977.