A good friend of mine has been caring for a beautiful, planted aquarium that houses one spoiled beta fish, and a very large yellow ‘Mystery’ snail.
Mystery snails are unique and valued in the pet trade because they are unable to reproduce by themselves — a rare trait in the snail world. Needless to say, my friend was surprised when the snail began to lay clusters of eggs.
After a little research she discovered that sterile eggs could be produced when the snail had extra calcium in its diet; so when this would happen she would clean the tank and think no more of it.
But about a week ago, when she turned on the aquarium light, she found dozens of impossibly small snails in her tank. How did this happen? Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, the snail was mislabeled: and instead of procuring a mystery snail, she had purchased an invasive apple snail.
Situations like this are uncomfortably common, and in the worst cases, invasive species are introduced into the environment.
Invasive species are incredibly damaging to our native ecosystems. Examples are numerous: exotic species like boa constrictors will hunt and eat many animals, disturbing the natural food chain.
Other exotic species including the apple snail, are voracious herbivores that can eat so much they starve out native species.
How do you avoid this situation? The first thing you need to do is be aware of what you are signing up for when you purchase that animal.
Knowing the needs of a pet is essential to being ready for the care requirements that you will have to meet.
Things that need to be considered include the type of food they eat, the amount of space they will need, the average lifespan for the species, and any potential issues regarding their reproduction and biology.
Furthermore, you need to know how these requirements will change as the animal gets older.
Will they need more space as they grow larger?
Or perhaps their diet will change over time. If you need help finding this information, find someone who is familiar with that species.
The employees at the pet store you are visiting are often an excellent resource, or you can reach out to Georgia DNR to see if the species you are considering is listed as one of their nuisance species.
Another excellent way to ensure you are not introducing unwanted species into your home or the environment around you is by temporarily isolating new aquarium or pet additions.
For example, Georgia DNR has found invasive zebra mussels in moss ball plants. If you put newly purchased moss balls in an isolation fish tank to observe for a week or so, you should be able to determine if there are unwanted hitchhikers present.
With any unwanted pet, do not release the animal outside. You may think that it is safe to dump an aquarium out on dry land, but invasive species have overcome such obstacles before.
The best option would be to contact the pet store you purchased the animal from to see if they would be willing to take it back. If that is not an option, try to re-home the pet to someone else or see if a school would be willing to have it as a class pet.
The only remaining option would be to euthanize the animal. While this is unfortunate and unpleasant, it is a necessary precaution to prevent lasting ecological damage caused by releasing exotic pets.
If you would like to look at current invasive species of Georgia, visit invasive.org.
Research the care and biology of your pets ahead of time, and be prepared to care for that animal for its entire life. If it still sounds like a fun endeavor, then you would make a great pet owner!