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Invasive Snails Killing Great Lake Birds

Dec 17, 2014 09:47 AM EST
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To add to the list of factors wreaking havoc on the polluted Great Lakes, an invasive snail species carrying parasites is killing some aquatic birds in the region, and spreading fast, according to reports.

Over the last three years, researchers with 10 different universities and the US Environmental Protection Agency have spotted faucet snails - Bithynia tentaculata - in various new locations. It was found in sites in all five Great Lakes, which is more widespread than scientists initially thought.

And considering an encounter with one is potentially fatal, this does not bode well for water birds living throughout the area.

"This is another example of how our natural systems are constantly at risk, and why it is so important to remain vigilant, as is being done through this basin-wide monitoring effort," Alan Steinman, director of the Grand Valley State University's (GVSU) Annis Water Resources Institute, said in a news release.

Hailing from Europe, this snail carries intestinal flukes that kill native waterfowl including ducks and coots. Though the faucet snail is a mere half-inch in height at full size, should one of these waterbirds ingest one, the parasites would attack their internal organs, causing lesions and bleeding.

Faucet snails are identified by their brown or black coloring, and the distinctive whorl of concentric circles on the shell opening cover that looks like tree rings.

And they may be small, but that just makes it easier for them to spread throughout the Great Lakes - not to mention that they're difficult to kill. Steinman suggests the pests are getting around through ballast water, by attaching to grasses left on boats, or by hitching a ride on the ducks themselves.

Hunters may not notice the snail itself, but sick waterfowl can give them a hint. The infected animals are lethargic and have trouble diving and flying, according to officials. But we need not worry, because faucet snails do not make humans ill.

"Our finding highlights the importance of ecological monitoring, especially at a large spatial scale, and making those results publicly available so that decision makers have good information when implementing management strategies," added Carl Ruetz, a professor at the Annis Water Resources Institute and collaborator on the Great Lakes coastal wetlands monitoring project.

Considering invasive species like the faucet snail, and the Asian carp, are attacking native species in the region, officials are struggling to restore the Great Lakes.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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