Chinese mystery snail spotted in Alberta lake — and biologists want your help to keep it there
'We basically just have to live with them and try to minimize their spread'
Invasive species experts are asking the public to help them keep an eye out for a snail that was detected for the first time in Alberta.
The Chinese mystery snail, which can grow up to six centimetres, was found in Lake McGregor, about 140 kilometres southeast of Calgary, last summer.
Native to eastern Asia, where it's considered a delicacy or even an aquarium pet, the snail is an invasive species in many North American jurisdictions.
It has been found in parts of British Columbia, eastern Canada, and the United States.
Researchers are now trying to understand how it got to the southern Alberta lake and whether it could spread.
The province started investigating after one large snail shell was discovered by a university student near a boat launch at the provincial recreation area.
A survey turned up several live snails and likely thousands of snail shells in the area, but nowhere else so far. It's thought the snail may have been there for more than two years.
Nicole Kimmel, an aquatic invasive species specialist with the province, says they're asking the public for help.
"So we're really relying on the public to notice these noticeable shells and then maybe report them and then we can start looking for other locations," she said.
"Our main goal is still on prevention," she added. "We'd like to get more education and awareness on familiarity with the species with Albertans."
Kimmel said once the snails arrive, they're hard to get rid of.
"The problem with that is that once they establish, there's no really good control methods, so we basically just have to live with them and try to minimize their spread from their introduced location," she said.
'It can be a pretty invasive species'
Biologists say the snail can out-compete native species and host parasites and diseases.
University of Alberta snail researcher Patrick Hanington said the discovery is a bit concerning.
"It can be a pretty invasive species. Once it takes a foothold, it doesn't have a lot of natural predators, especially here in Alberta," he said.
"It gets quite large and it really thrives on soft-bottom, muddy-bottom lakes, which tends to be pretty prevalent here in southern Alberta. So it was a pretty concerning find, for sure."
The province is looking at long-term measures to prevent its spread.
It's illegal to possess, release, sell or transport the snail in Alberta. Lake McGregor is part of the Bow River Irrigation District.
Local irrigation district officials say the snail hasn't been detected in other parts of the irrigation system so far and doesn't pose a problem for the network at this point.