Girl Scout troop helps get invasive species out of Dane County waterways

Brownies remove New Zealand mud snails from Black Earth Creek and learn about conservation.
Updated: May. 16, 2021 at 9:10 PM CDT
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CROSS PLAINS, Wis. (WMTV) - Some Dane County waterways are starting to have an invasive species problem caused by snails from overseas, but there are efforts to stop them in their tracks. One Girl Scout troop in Cross Plains is helping clean up Black Earth Creek, removing hundreds of tiny snails—no bigger than a grain of rice—from the creek.

The troop spent Saturday afternoon learning about both the insects naturally found in the water and the invasive snails that threaten them.

“I didn’t even know what the looked like,” said 8-year-old Girl Scout Avery Lentz.

Lentz and her fellow Girl Scouts learned how New Zealand mud snails crowd out native species, threatening to change the ecosystem in local rivers and cutting off food sources for other insects and fish.

“All of the creatures in the water might die,” Lentz explained.

“I think the New Zealand snails need to go back home,” added fellow Girl Scout Avery Schuhart.

The theory of how the snails made their way across the world to Dane County is that people who traveled to go fishing in New Zealand brought the snails back on their boots. When they went fishing again in creeks and rivers in Wisconsin, the snails settled into those waterways.

“These little guys stick onto their boots and you can’t see them because they’re so tiny,” said stream ecology professor Bobbi Peckarski.

Peckarski joined the Girl Scout troop Saturday, teaching them how to identify insects in water samples from the creek and helping them remove hundreds of invasive snails. She explained the snails are effective invaders because they can survive for weeks out of the water and do not need a mate to reproduce.

“All you need is one snail and that snail can reproduce and make a bazillion new snails,” Peckarski said.

The snails are also difficult to get rid of once they are in the water.

“You could poison them or you could freeze them but then you’d kill everything else,” Peckarski explained.

However, she said getting the next generation involved could make a big difference.

“They add so much enthusiasm and they are the future,” she said, adding, “It’s a way to get them to realize what a treasure we have here.”

The Girl Scouts agreed, many saying they have to warn people about the snails now that they know.

“We could all come together and join forces and get the New Zealand snails back to New Zealand,” Schuhart said.

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