What do the following organisms have in common? Starlings, kudzu, multiflora rose, Asian Lady beetles, English sparrows, chestnut blight and gypsy moth.
How about that none of these named critters is indigenous or native to our area. All were brought in to our country for good purposes or hitched a ride undetected on some other carrier. After arriving here all have prospered and sometimes dominated the local landscape or biota.
Kudzu was brought in from Japan as a cover crop while starlings and house sparrows may have been introduced into the States as early as 1850s. Chestnut blight was carried in on seedlings from China but quickly found a home in native chestnut trees that had no resistance and proceeded to virtually wipe out the huge chestnut forests. Gypsy moth and Asian lady beetles were brought in with good intentions but quickly grew into huge populations that were out of control and caused much damage.
These are just a few of the non-native flora and fauna that have found a home here, usually to the detriment of the local and endemic life. Now one more critter has shown up locally and bears watching.
The Grove snail first began to show up in my yard in Green Bank a couple of summers ago. Sometimes climbing up the side of the house or trees or feeding on garden plants; they were easily identifiable because they are so colorful. The shell gets to be about the size of a quarter and may have mixed spirals of rich brown, yellows or even greens and white.
Also known as the brown-lipped snail, Cepaea nemoralis is native to northern Europe and the United Kingdom where it is very common. No doubt aided by human transport, this air-breathing, land snail appeared in a few places on our east coast a few years ago and has gradually been colonizing and moving west.
I was talking snails to folks at the Marlinton farmers market last year when someone mentioned, “if you want to see those snails, stop by the library.” Sure enough, I stopped by later and found several on the flowers at the McClintic Library, so they have definitely been there and festered for a while. Empty and dead shells littered the area.
During the drought late last summer, the grove snails were harder to find and probably impacted by the dry conditions. In the fall as I emptied out my compost pile, I found several that had crawled deep into the damp compost for protection. If a damp or rainy summer occurs their populations will certainly rebound.
So, what can we expect from this intruder?
They may out-compete the native, less colorful snail populations. At any rate, they probably will never be a problem like the giant non-native snails showing up in Florida. Grove snails will be preyed upon by birds and mice looking for a quick meal. Who knows? They may even make good escargot and provide another food source for you and me.
But arrival of these snails is one more sad swipe at biodiversity, especially if the native populations or plants are impacted.
Dave is a telescope operator at the Green Bank Observatory and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org