CROWLEY, LOUISIANA– Louisiana’s top export is rice. Rice, is a blank canvas and the foundation of the Louisiana diet. Statewide, Louisiana cultivates an industry of about 360 million dollars a year and Crowley is known as the rice capitol of the United States. However there is a real danger of major revenue loss because of an invasion of apple snails that have been steadily growing over a number of years throughout the waterways.
Apple snails have been in Louisiana since 2006, since the first snails were found in a canal in Gretna. The floods of 2016 allowed the snails to travel around to different bodies of water and they multiplied quickly. The snails are native to South America and were first brought to the United States as a popular fish tank algae eater. They wreak havoc as an invasive species, eating the rice and out-competing native crawfish for scavenging food sources.
Blake Wilson is an entomologist with the LSU Agriculture Center who conducts research at the with the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station. Wilson says that the snails are edible, but there are few animals that can eat them fast enough to put a dent in the population and even fewer people who would dare to indulge in a little “bayou escargot.” The snail eggs are a different matter. Apple snails lay psychedelic pink colored eggs that are poisonous with a neurotoxin that irritates, the skin, eyes and mouth.
“They are a dangerous problem and there’s potential for every female to produce offspring of over 10,000 new snails a year. You can see some structures and bayous, completely covered with the pink egg masses. They are reaching incredible population densities,” says Wilson.
The snails have already spread across 30 parishes and decimated a 50-acre rice field in Vermillion parish, which had to be replanted. Copper sulfate is used on the rice fields to manage the population, but it can not be used on crawfish ponds, because although it will help control the snail problem, it will also kill the crawfish.
The crawfish industry had a promising start at the beginning of 2020 and then had a devastating season because of a lack of demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The new snail threat compounds an already challenging pandemic crop. Blake Wilson says “if they continue to spread, they can impact all the rice production in south Louisiana of about 400 thousand acres, as well as the crawfish industry worth about 300 million annually.”
The LSU Agriculture Center is advising boaters to check their boats before they pull off. If snails are attached, pick them off to prevent spreading them to other bodies of water.