The Tiny Snail That Is Taking Over The Planet

By Amir Khan on August 28, 2012 6:22 AM EDT

Mudsnail
When people think of a species invading Earth, they typically think of aliens from a faraway planet. But according to a new study, published in the journal NeoBiota, the species with the biggest threat to invade Earth is actually a tiny species of snail -- and its takeover has already begun. (Photo: Creative Commons)

When people think of a species invading Earth, they typically think of aliens from a faraway planet. But according to a new study, published in the journal NeoBiota, the species with the biggest threat to invade Earth is actually a tiny species of snail -- and its takeover has already begun.

The species in question is the New Zealand mudsnail, which is about the size of a pencil tip. Although initially confined to New Zealand, the mudsnail has since spread to Europe, Australia, Asia and the United States. In America, where it has no natural predators, the mudsnail outcompetes native snails for food and space and is considered an invasive species.

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"Mudsnail densities of over one-half million per meter square in western streams are a cause for concern," the U.S. Geological Survey says on its website. "Because the West is known for abundant trout and productive fishing spots, there is concern that the mudsnails will impact the food chain for native trout and the physical characteristics of the streams themselves."

Why is the mudsnail so dangerous? It can reproduce quickly and in high numbers, giving it the ability to spread easily. A female mudsnail can produce 230 offspring per year without a mate, according to LiveScience.

Mudsnails are also difficult to kill. Although they live in water, they can survive for a long time out of water. Researchers tested how long it would take to dehydrate them completely, and found that even after 48 hours they sprung back to life.

Researchers recommend swift action to stop the mudsnail from spreading further. One course of action is to expose fishing equipment to a "drying treatment" when going from one aquatic ecosystem to another. A drying treatment consists of exposing the equipment to air for at least 50 hours before putting it into a different ecosystem.

Another course of action the recommend is to put physical barriers, such as scarecrows for birds, to prevent wild and domestic animals from venturing into the infested waters and spreading the snails further. 

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