Nature officials try to remove invasive snail

MYRTLE BEACH -- The gummy-looking, droplet-like clusters of pink eggs that clung to the bank of the pond appeared harmless enough, but South Carolina nature officials are worried the snails that hatch from those eggs could pose a health risk and cause widespread ecological damage.

The island apple snail was found for the first time in South Carolina in May in nearly a dozen ponds. Now, officials are trying to eradicate them before they spread to the Waccamaw River, which would make containment efforts much harder.

"Ideally, they would be exterminated," said David Knott, a marine biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. "If it's feasible, and we can do it without causing environmental damage, that's what we'd like to do."

The snail could eat just about all the plants in a pond, and displace and even feed on native snail populations, Knott said. The snail also carries a parasite that could cause fatal meningitis and can transfer to people if it is handled without gloves, although Knott said he was unaware of a case in the U.S.

The snail has already been found in Florida, Georgia and Texas, and is indigenous to South America, the DNR said.