Nov 15 2010
Chuck Tague sent me news from Florida Audubon of a well meaning plan to control an exotic plant that would have disastrous consequences for the snail kite.
Snail kites are unusual birds of prey with red eyes and deeply hooked beaks that specialize in just one food: the apple snail, so-called because its shell resembles an apple.
Apple snails live in clean, warm, freshwater lakes and wetlands, so that’s where the snail kite lives too. Most of the snail kite’s range is in South America. In the U.S. they are found only in Florida but are increasingly rare and now considered endangered in this country. Their population dropped from 3,000 in the mid-1990’s to only 700 birds today due to habitat loss, the degradation of the Everglades, and a huge drop in the population of native apple snails.
But there is one bright spot. Snail kites also eat the exotic invasive Island Apple Snail (Pomacea insularum), pictured here, that thrives in the presence of a plant called hydrilla.
And that’s where the trouble begins. Hydrilla is both exotic and invasive. It jams boat propellers and clogs lakewater habitat, so to make room for navigation and native species the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission planned control measures to get rid of it. The problem is, if the hydrilla is gone, the population of island apple snails will crash and this will starve off the last remaining snail kites in Florida.
That’s why Florida Audubon mobilized their members to attend a meeting in Kissimmee last week to urge Florida FWC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife not to enact an aggressive hydrilla control plan at Lake Toho.
Citizen comments prior to the meeting already helped the situation. According to a Florida Fish and Wildlife news release, FWC and USFW modified their plan to clear hydrilla only from the navigation channels, making sure that enough hydrilla and apple snails remain to feed the snail kites.
And so they’ll avoid the unintended consequence of extirpating snail kites from the United States.
Read more about the snail kite’s tenuous life in FL here.