“Snail-killing party in Langan Park and Three Mile Creek this weekend.”
Was this some “you must be a redneck if …” joke?
Or, was it the lead-in to a collection of “Southern Haiku”?
A New Moon
Flashlights pierce darkness
No night crawlers to be found
Guess we’ll gig some frogs
It was neither. Through the medium of the press, the Mobile Baykeeper, the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put out the call for volunteers to show up on a Saturday morning to “help kill as many gastropods as possible.”
Come one, come all. Bring your boats, canoes, kayaks. Wear old sneakers so you can wade along the soft banks of streams and ponds. Wear old clothes because you are going to get wet and dirty and snail-slimed.
I do not enjoy killing for the sake of killing.
As a boy, I did as boys do. I had a BB gun, and with it I put a small dent in the bird population.
I also took part in a rat-killing. My daddy, a couple of his friends and I were moving some hay that was in the back of a crib where we also kept corn, and out from behind one bale ran a rat. Daddy and his friends armed themselves with stout sticks, and with me as the appointed bale mover, they prepared for the killing. Never having been party to such an undertaking, I assumed that we’d kill a few — maybe a dozen — and be done with it. That was when I learned that rats breed, well, like rats, and when I began moving the bales, the crib exploded with rodents.
So I grabbed a stick and joined in the slaughter. It was great fun for everyone, except the rats.
“Though boys throw stones at the frogs in sport,
“The frogs do not die in sport, but in earnest.” — Bion (Greek poet, 100 B.C.)
And they say there is no value in a liberal-arts education.
I no longer kill for sport. I have not hunted in years and when I fish, it is for the pot. If I catch something that can’t be used, I let it go.
However, this snail thing might just cause me to reconsider the mass slaughter of a species.
The Mobile-area killing was undertaken to get rid of the Amazonian apple snail, a nasty-looking sack of ooze about the size of a baseball that has made the list of the world’s 100 worst invasive species.
It was once legal to own one, so folks kept them in their home aquariums. Likely, they grew too big, started crowding out the fish and hermit crabs, and rather than kill them, the kind-hearted owner threw them into a nearby pond. You think rats breed fast? No one has ever used the term “snail’s pace” to describe the Amazonian reproductive prowess.
They are no longer legal.
Not that it matters, for they are spreading — Latin America, Southeast Asia, Hawaii, California, a pond in Yuma, Ariz., Baldwin County, Mobile — eating native plants and leaving behind murky, algae-filled water. If they get into the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, they may attach their eggs to vessels heading upriver and pretty soon there will be snails among us. And since earlier efforts to eradicate them came to naught, the call went out for the public to come and kill snails — smash ’em, squash ’em, pound ’em in the ground.
How successful were they? Time will tell.
But if this doesn’t work, I have an alternative they may want to try.
This approach is a variation of the scheme my late father had for the eradication of kudzu. He believed that if you sprinkle the vine with bourbon, Baptists would come out after dark and eat the plant right down to the ground. The idea was roundly applauded by the Methodists who gathered at Daddy’s Poutin’ House, but was roundly rejected by their Baptist brethren.
Now, I have eaten snail — escargot, you know — and it wasn’t bad. Over in Southeast Asia, the Amazonian apple is caught, cleaned, cooked, chopped up and eaten with rice. I am sure Southern foodies could come up with some way to turn the Amazonian apple into a Dixie dining delight.
’Course, that could backfire on us, as good ideas often do down here. Popularity could increase the demand for the snails and to meet that demand, snail farms could pop up all over the region. Rather than fewer snails, we would end up with more that are ready to escape into the wild. Then we’d have to have an even bigger snail-killing.
I think I’d better think this through again.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.