Chinese mystery snail in Alberta: a very spe-shell case

By Paige Kuczmarski, Alberta Environment and Parks

Although this isn’t our regular snail’s pitch of stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) with “Clean, Drain, Dry” or “Don’t let it Loose”, we still need your undivided attention! We were shell-shocked to find our first location of the invasive Chinese mystery snail (Cipangopaludina chinensis) in Alberta this year in McGregor Lake! This species is one of 52 prohibited species listed on the Fisheries (Alberta) Act, meaning we must fight tooth and snail to slow this species from spreading. We need you to come out of your shell and help us with ANY information, such as dates, photos or locations of Chinese mystery snail you may have seen in the past few years. A photo was shared with us showing two people holding up the large snail shells, which gives us reason to believe it has been here since 2016.

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This snail is very noticeable with a large, globular shell that can reach sizes of 6 cm. Distinct sutures and fine growth lines on the brown to olive colored shell also help with identification. Chinese mystery snail can be found buried in soft muddy or sandy substrates in freshwater lakes, streams and rivers. This species of snail can tolerate less than ideal conditions and survive out of water for up to 4 weeks due to the protection provided by an operculum or ‘trap-door’ – this alone warrants concern for further spread through transportation of watercrafts or gear.

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In a nutshell, Chinese mystery snail is named after its mysterious reproductive abilities of giving birth to fully developed juvenile snails, which can happen as many as 169 time per year! This species can impact the growth and abundance of native snail species by competing for habitat and resources, as well as effect water intake pipes and other submerged equipment as their large shells can clog and stop water flow. Furthermore, Chinese mystery snail are considered edible and often sold in Chinese food markets despite it being an intermediate host to multiple parasites that could impact human health. Basically, its ability to rapidly reproduce, tolerate unfavorable conditions and out-compete native species shows that Chinese mystery snails have all the characteristics that make a species highly invasive – any details you may have would help us before this population spirals out of control!

Always remember:

  • To avoid snail mail! Always report aquatic invasive species through EDDMapS Alberta or directly through email, ais@gov.ab.ca or by phone, 1-855-336-BOAT (2628).
  • Don’t be shell-fish! Don’t let it loose – never release live animals, plants or aquarium water into the environment.
  • Take it slow! Always Clean, Drain, Dry your gear before moving between waterbodies.
  • If it’s a mystery to you, learn to identify Alberta’s 52 prohibited aquatic invasive species using our pocket guide.Lake McGregor 2019 NK_0041.JPG

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