Shellfish Lovers: Beware

Scientists are trying to find out more about a new marine predator off the Virginia coast.

It's called a sea snail, or the veined rapa whelk. Its scientific name is Rapana venosa. This large snail's main diet is shellfish, which may mean trouble ahead for those who like to eat clams or oysters.

News About Animals

Correspondent Michael Ford of CBS Affiliate WTVR-TV in Richmond, Va., reports the new predator has marine scientists puzzled. Sea snails are looking for a snack, and they like clams. The longer the snail thrives in Virginia, the more it puts local clam populations at risk.

"Even though it doesn't move around very much, it is a predatory animal", says Dr. Roger Mann, an expert on snails who works with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. "They go completely over the clam; holds it tight. It functionally suffocates the clam and so the clam relaxes and tries to open. At that point in time, he puts his parts in and starts eating dinner."

This snail is native to Japan. Scientists believe what we have in Virginia would have come from the Black Sea, the Adriatic, or the Aegean, hitchhiking a ride in the belly of a cargo ship...which then dumped its ballast water in the the Chesapeake Bay.

The large animal is also affecting the ecosystem. When it dies, the large tough shell remains, which allows hermit crabs to grow larger because they can now find larger accommodations. Larger hermit crabs could threaten baby oysters.

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