A couple of days ago I was wandering through my yard and wishing for spring. As I did, I saw a small snail of a type I had only seen once before.
He looks kind of cute, doesn’t he? (I’m using the universal “he” here in an anthropomorphic sense, obviously, since snails are hermaphroditic.)
About an inch long, pretty shell, kind of friendly looking.
At first glance, I got “the fear,” though. Why? Because I was afraid I may have stumbled across a juvenile version of this monster:
Those are giant African land snails. If you click the image, you can read a nice, creepy article from National Geographic on how they’ve invaded Dade County, Florida… and how they like to eat the stucco off of houses, not to mention devour almost every plant species of agricultural significance.
Fortunately, after a little research, I nailed down my snail as being a native type – the “Rosy wolfsnail”. Not only that, according to UF, it’s a predatory snail that will feed on giant African snails, among other types:
“Distribution: In the United States: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and southeastern Texas. It is widespread in Florida, including the Keys. It is widespread, but usually found singly in hardwood forests, roadsides and urban gardens (Hubricht 1985).
Comments: This snail was chosen as a possible biological control agent of the giant African snail. Live specimens were sent to Hawaii in 1955 (Mead 1961). Although feeding in Achatina was observed, as well as on the Asian tramp snail, Bradybaena similaris (Férussac, 1821) and native tree snails (Hart 1978), no real control was achieved. The snail reproduced rapidly in Hawaii and, by 1958, 12,000 snails were harvested for release in other Hawaiian Islands, New Guinea, Okinawa, Palau Islands, Philippines and the Bonin Islands. Chiu and Chou (1962) gave details of the biology of Euglandina in Taiwan. Individuals live up to 24 months and adults lay 25 to 35 eggs in a shallow pocket in the soil. These hatch after 30 to 40 days. In Taiwan, Euglandina consumed as many as 350 Achatina during its lifetime. Euglandina rosea is now considered invasive in Hawaii as it has caused the extinction of eight native snail species.”
Nice. It’s so bad to the bone that it makes other snails GO EXTINCT!
And it gets better. The Rosy wolfsnail eats slugs:
And it eats another common invasive species of snail:
There are lessons in here, should we choose to seek them out.
The immediate response most gardeners have to a pest… is the wrong one.
The question “how do I kill it” is not the right question. The question “what part does this creature play?” is a better one.
For instance, if you saw you had snails in your yard and decided to hit the local hardware store to buy snail killer, you might in fact be killing snails like the Rosy wolfsnail. This means you’re making your work as a gardener harder. Recently I posted on the 6 creatures that should be in your food forest. Those six are a great start; however, they’re just a tiny start.
We seem to want to constantly simplify systems. Rather than a rambling forest with interspersed clearings and rolling topography with piles of sticks and fallen locks, patches of weeds, edibles, rocks, toxic species, nettles, birds, bees and plenty of fruit… we like to have monocultures under strict control.
The problem with this is that the complexity of natural systems were designed to be self-maintaining and perpetuating. Once you take out the checks and balances, you have to play God in your garden. Kill the snails and you’ll always have to kill snails (bye-bye bad guys.. and bye-bye Rosy). Poison the wasps and you’ll have to pick caterpillars off everything. Plant blocks of the same species and you’ll be constantly dealing with diseases. Clean up brush and you remove hiding places for mice… and snakes… which means rather than keeping a low population of rodents outside, you’re likely to have the mice move inside and the snakes run off.
You get the idea. It’s just like when you take antibiotics for an infection. The antibiotics kill off the bad bug in your system… and wreck the delicate balance of microorganisms in your digestive tract at the same time. Exposure to greater diversity of microorganisms is better for you than living in a sterile environment.
The garden works in the same way. Create lots of habitat, don’t be quick to kill off pests, observe what’s happening and intervene only as it’s really needed. It’s okay to make a mess!
Rosy thanks you.