By Chris Hagan
Review Staff Writer
A certain type of snail, small enough to fit on Abraham Lincoln’s head on the penny, is one of the newest threats to Michigan’s aquatic ecosystems and members of Orion Township want to get the information out to the public.
What’s concerning is the mudsnails’ natural habitat can be found in flowing fresh water and lakes and they compete for food with native bottom dwelling organisms and aquatic life. The fish and insects that inhabit the water no longer have a food source and they begin to die.
The mudsnail also reproduces alarmingly quick and do so asexually, meaning a male doesn’t have to impregnate a female. A single snail can produce hundreds in a matter of months and result in densities that are just as alarming with a square meter reaching half a million snails. In a matter of a year, a single female mudsnail could result in a colony of 40 million according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Parks Director Aaron Whatley, who also sits on the board for the Clinton River Watershed, says this could be catastrophic for Orion’s natural habits if the mudsnail makes it’s way south. With over 40 lakes in the township measuring over five acres and Lake Orion being the headwater for Paint Creek, which also supplies the Clinton River, it’s a priority for Whatley’s staff.
According to Whatley, Paint Creek is one the last remaining naturally producing cold water trout streams in Southeast Michigan and a jewel for the township.
“It’s like introducing Zebra mussels into a habitat that didn’t have them so imagine if you introduce something that’s foreign and aggressively invasive to Lake Orion, it not only affects Lake Orion, now its effecting the whole Paint Creek Watershed,” Whatley said. People utilize our waterways everywhere here and we want to educate everyone and to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to be effective.”
The snail, which only measures an eighth-of-an-inch, began showing up in several Western states and then to Wisconsin before making the trek across Lake Michigan. It’s believed that the mudsnail may have attached to the boots or waders of fishermen who were fishing out west.
It was first discovered in Michigan last year in the Pere Marquette River within the Manistee National Forest and now the snail has popped up in the Au Sable River.
Messaging from the DNR and Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN) is being echoed by the township that cleaning recreational equipment is crucial in controlling the spread.
“We have so much green space and water that we’re trying to protect our natural resources so cleaning gear, cleaning waders, totaling disinfecting your equipment is the key,” he said. “We want to get the messaging out early so children and grandchildren can enjoy the great things Orion Township, and the surrounding communities, have to offer.”
Whatley said the Clinton River Watershed has partnered with Green Light Graphics, who donated the material, to produce signage informing people of the mudsnail. They’ll be rolling out the messaging along areas of the Paint Creek Trail this year.
For more information on the New Zealand Mudsnail visit the Michigan DNR’s website at michigan.gov/dnr.
By Chris Hagan