Dr. Rob Dillon, Coordinator

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Freshwater Gastropods and Social Media

Editor’s Notes –This is the fifth installment of my series on the general topic of freshwater snails in the aquarium hobby.  Previous posts have been “What’s Out There?” [9Oct17], “Loved to Death?” [6Nov17], “Pet Shop Malacology,” [21Dec17] and “Snails by Mail” [24Jan18].  But don’t worry.  Full appreciation of Essay #5 is not contingent upon familiarity with Essays #1 – 4.

This essay was subsequently published as: Dillon, R.T., Jr. (2023c)  Freshwater Gastropods and Social Media.  Pp 51 – 55 in The Freshwater Gastropods of North America Volume 7, Collected in Turn One, and Other EssaysFWGNA Project, Charleston, SC.

I am not social, in any medium.  I don’t even text, much less twitter or tweet or insta-chat or whatever it is that the kids are doing these days.  I understand that social media can be effective tools for communicating on a large scale.  I did join Facebook about ten years ago, in order to “like” a political group of which I was serving as an officer [1].  I regretted it at the time, and regret it now.

In any case, about once a week I gather up my courage and log onto Facebook.  And watch in horror as great garbled masses of disconnected conversations and news and opinions and jokes and photos and videos from family and friends and professional colleagues and high school classmates and Sacred Harp Singing Societies are disgorged simultaneously onto my desk in one gigantic, hideous, stupefying dose.

So several months ago, a Facebook friend called my attention to a group called “Snails, Snails, Snails.”  Heart racing with a mixture of curiosity and dread, I clicked over to the homepage for the group, and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but an internet forum for “lovers, keepers, breeders, and sales of freshwater and saltwater snails and slugs,” boasting 5,442 members!

"Gary doesn't smell so good."
It was a closed group.  So I submitted my CV, top five recent publications, and three letters of reference, and was, after some period of deliberation, duly admitted to membership.  And have subsequently been charmed.

What an engaging assortment of odd-lot humanity!  Mostly young, apparently from a wide variety of backgrounds, hailing from all over the world, unified by the love, yes love often and freely confessed, of gastropods.  Most of the members seem to be freshwater aquarium hobbyists.  Posts about marine gastropods are occasional, as are photos of pet land snails, and even peripheral aquarium fauna, like shrimp.  But I would estimate that, of the perhaps 15 – 20 posts per day, at least 80% have to do with somebody’s freshwater aquarium pet.

Fascinated by the social interactions as they unfolded before me, I resolved to log onto Snails, Snails, Snails every day for 30 days, beginning 25Aug17, and monitor all activity.

I recorded 16 different freshwater gastropod categories receiving mention during my month of observation, totaling 375 mentions.  Of that total, 230 mentions (61%) were of Pomacea diffusa/bridgesii, almost universally referred to as “mystery snails,” apparently the most popular gastropod pet in the home aquarium by far.  Indeed, at some point during the month my attention was called to a pair of independently-operating FB groups dedicated exclusively to P. diffusa, “Mystery Snail and Aquatic Lovers” with 3,166 members and “Mystery Snail Addiction” with 1,818 members [2]. 

The discussion seems to focus on husbandry – food, water quality, life history in culture – not too much different from chatter about aquarium fish, I don’t suppose.  One probably reads more of the “How do I tell if Gary is dead” sorts of questions.  One also reads a surprising number of posts sharing “the cute thing I saw Lightning do,” probably very similar to typical social media interactions about cats and dogs.

The next-most-popular category of freshwater snails in social media seems to be the nerites of all species, with 33 mentions on Snails, Snails, Snails for the month.  This is unsurprising, given the results of the survey of big-box pet retailers I reported in December [3].  The remainder of the species with double-digit mentions during my 30 days of monitoring were “Ramshorns” (24), Melanoides tuberculata (19), Physa (17), Assassin snails (14), and “Rabbit Snails” (Tylomelania, all species) with 10 mentions [4].

I tallied eight mentions of “apple snails” during my month of observation, by which I was able to unambiguously confirm that the author was referring to large, invasive Pomacea maculata/insularum/canaliculata types.  I also caught two mentions of the invasive “Columbian Rams Horn” Marisa.

One young lady in Houston shared an article from the Houston Chronicle entitled, “Harvey Floodwaters bring weird pink things to the Houston landscape [5].”  There were 11 comments and replies, most of the “LOL” sort.  But other comments included "I'll take them 😄" and "I wish I could find some of these here," and "So jealous!  I'm in Illinois and haven't been able to get my hands on a pair."

Without a doubt, significant pent-up demand exists within the community of aquarium hobbyists for large, invasive apple snails.  I counted four separate appeals to purchase such animals during my 30 days of observation, generally of the form, “Does anyone have a LARGE (like, baseball sized) apple snail that they would sell? I LOVE snails and I can't find any that large near me.” 

It is impossible to know, of course, to what extent such requests are satisfied through one-on-one “messaging.”  Typical public replies to such solicitations included “You’d have to find locally. So you should post your location. Shipping adults is dangerous.” or “For channeleds you'd have to find a local seller. I believe it's illegal to ship them over state lines.”  Here’s one (especially revealing) reply: “Haha thank you! Yes our aquarium shop gets lucky once in a great moon and they have a personal tank with one literally apple size so I am always checking in.”

I never saw any misgivings expressed by any member of the Snails, Snails, Snails FB Group about the potential for large apple snails to become invasive pests.  Significant qualms were not uncommonly expressed, however, about the potential for large apple snails to destroy valuable aquarium plants.  One member asked, “How do you stop apple snails from eating your expensive plants?”  After several commiserations, condolences, and expressions of despair, the Group Administrator posted this meme, which I do not understand:

Finally.  I leave you on this Valentine’s Day with one woman’s heart-wrenching testimonial to the love she bore for her gastropod friends.  She posted: 
“My son was in a horrific car accident on Tuesday and almost lost his life. He is home now and doing well but, while i was away i had my kids feeding my snails for me. It did not turn out so well. I lost a banjo catfish, a betta, and all but two of my big apple snails. I am praying these two guys will recover but idk.”
Yes, you read that correctly.  Her son was in an automobile accident, and she is praying for her snails.


[1] The South Carolinians for Science Education. [SCSE]  Like us on Facebook!

[2]  The list goes on and on, actually.  A simple search for “snails” within Facebook will also return groups called “Land Snails” (742 members), “Tree and Land Snails” (925 members), “Snail Enthusiasts: USA” (1,400 members) and even (I wish I was kidding) “Giant African Land Snails” with 5,800 members.

[3] Pet Shop Malacology [21Dec17]

[4] Others mentioned included Bellayma (6), “Pagoda snails” (5), Thiara scabra (3), “Devil’s Spike” (1), Lymnaea peregra (1), Gyraulus parvus (1), and New Zealand Mud Snails (1).

[5] Houston Chronicle (7Sept17).  Harvey Floodwaters bring weird pink things to the Houston landscape. [html]

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