The Oriental Mystery Mollusc (Cipangopaludina chinensis)
 at Buckhorn Island State Park, Erie County, New York

P. M. Eckel

Missouri Botanical Garden

Res Botanica

August 3, 2004

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The Oriental Mystery Mollusc (Cipangopaludina chinensis)
 at Buckhorn Island State Park, Erie County, New York


P. M. Eckel


July is one of the more spectacular months to view the riparian habitats at Buckhorn Island State Park, which is especially accessible near the wooden fishing platform provided by State Parks at Wood's Creek. There is a parking area just off East River Road in the north end of Grand Island, Erie County, New York State.


This area is just south of East River Road and the Wood's Creek parking area. This is an inlet of Wood's Creek.


The blue flowers of the Pickerel Weed (Pontederia cordata L.) are on display, as is the modest green flower that hides on its arching stem under the leaves of Green Water-arum (Peltandra virginica (L.) Kunth). White water lilies (Nymphaea odorata Ait.) are just expanding out of their buds, floating amid the great green circles of their leaves. This is just to mention only three of the more conspicuous elements of all that is lovely to see on the marsh in July.


It was while crouching on the edge of Wood's Creek by the canoe launching area on the south side of the East River Road, attempting to photograph submerged plants (the Hornwort, Ceratophyllum demersum L., and Water weed, Anacharis canadensis (Michx.) Rich.), that I was startled to see the muddy creek bottom covered with enormous snails.


Ghostly amid the Hornwort and below the floating discs of the Greater Duckweek (Spirodela polyrhiza (L.) Schleiden) looms the Mystery Snail.


Who among us is not prepared to see invasive species in our waterways, especially if they are of bizarre size and abundance? The zebra mussel is endlessly cited and depicted in newspapers as well as other exotic species unhappily overwhelming native plant populations and shoreline structures throughout the Great Lakes.


As Buckhorn Island is the focus of so much government study at the present time, with the native molluscan flora of particular interest throughout the Niagara River (all native mollusc species are of interest to agencies with mandates to protect New York State's wildlife), I thought it of interest to identify these creatures myself, although my specialty lies with plants.


The snails are so large and conspicuous, and so obviously of alien origin, that it was decided that the Internet would provide a quick synopsis of invasive molluscs in the Great Lakes region. It is doubtful that these snails are not located elsewhere in the Great Lakes, or that I was the first to discover them.


Cipangopaludina chinensis


It was quickly determined that these snails were fresh water operculates. Perhaps the best of the articles on the Internet is that of Mills, et al. (1993). After examining the pictures and descriptions of various possibilities, it was determined that the great size of these creatures (to 65 mm), as well as other more technical features, suggested that these snails are Cipangopaludina chinensis (Reeve 1863), the Oriental Mystery Snail. These creatures are native to Burma, China, Japan, Java, Korea, the Philippines, South Vietnam, Thailand, and "Asiatic Russia in the Amur region" (Pace 1973).


The genus Viviparus has species native to the United States. These species, and Cipangipaludina chinensis, enjoy the silt and mud of marshes and creeks, they tolerate pollution and stagnation in water and "thrive in aquatic environments that are too adverse for most other genera" (Thompson 2004).


Viviparus georgianus, the Banded Mystery Snail, is similar to Cipangipaludina. It is a native of the Mississippi River drainage. Both species are said to be initially released from aquaria, but V. georgianus is much smaller and the shells are strongly banded.


What makes this find at Buckhorn even more interesting is that it is known how the Oriental Mystery Snail became established in the Great Lakes, and when and where.


It was initially established at Cayuga Island on the north shore of the Niagara River where it bends and flows east-west. This island lies at the mouth of the Cayuga Creek in Niagara County. Mr. Eugene H. Schmeck lived there in 1931. He had a breeding pair of Mystery Snails in his aquarium, and he released them into the river. A "well established population" was later found, by Mr. Schmeck, in 1942 (Mills et al. 1993). Schmeck wrote a paper on the subject (Clench, W. J. 1942.  Viviparus malleatus in the Niagara river. Nautilus 55(3): 102-103). Imogene Robertson and Clifford Blakeslee, two malacologists at the Buffalo Museum of Science, duly noted this occurrence (Robertson & Blakeslee 1949).


The species is a source of food in Asia. It was first reported imported into the United States in 1892, and sold in a Chinese market in San Francisco (Wood 1892). Perhaps there is the possibility that fisherpersons may wish to harvest these snails from the canoe launch area in Wood's Creek and try them out in the kitchen - they are extremely abundant, at least along the shore, and can be scooped out by hand. The apparent foulness of the water in the Creek, however, indicates that this organism may absorb unpleasant compounds in its flesh, and that human consumption is ill-advised. Some toxicology studies of this species may be viewed on the Web.


The bad news is that this snail "can serve as a vector for various parasites and diseases. Over its native range, the Chinese Mystery Snail may serve as an intermediate host for Echinocasmus elongatus, E.  redioduplicatus, E. rugosus, Eupariphium ilocanum, E. recurvatum, Echinostoma macrorachis, and E. cinetorchis which can infect human beings (Pace 1973)" (Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission 2003).


The impact of the introduction of this snail is that it may compete with native snails at Grand Island and elsewhere in the Niagara River (Benson, 2004).


NOTE: Earlier names of Cipangopaludina chinensis (Reeve, 1863) published in the literature include Viviparus malleatus, Viviparus chinensis malleatus, Viviparus japonicus, Viviparus stelmaphora, Paludina malleata, Paludina japonicus, Cipangopaludina malleata (Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission. 2003).


The species enjoys the slow-moving freshwater of Wood's and Burntship Creeks with soft, muddy or silty bottoms, resembling the rice paddies and irrigation ditches of Asia where the species is cultivated for food. It occurs on sand to mud-sand substrates in large lentic and slow moving lotic ecosystems. With lowered water levels in the Niagara River and its tributaries, with increased deposition of fine-grained sediments, one might imagine an expansion of populations of this large snail into areas of increasingly sluggish waters. It should be very easy to spot this invasive snail in any or all of the tributaries on Grand Island and on both sides of the Niagara River in the United States and Canada.


Benson, Amy. 2004. Cipangopaludina chinensis malleata. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, Florida. Center for Aquatic Resource Studies. Biological Resources Division of the Geological Survey (U.S. Dept.  of the Interior).


Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission. 2003. Fact Sheet for Cipangopaludina chinensis (Reeve, 1863). University of Southern Mississippi/College of Marine Sciences/Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. August 2, 2004.


Mills, Edward L., Joseph H. Leach, James T. Carlton and Carol L. Secor.  1993. Exotic Species in the Great Lakes: A History of Biotic Crises and Anthropogenic Introductions. Journal of Great Lakes Research. 19(1):1-54.  International Association Great Lakes Research.


Pace, G. L. 1973. The freshwater snails of Taiwan (Formosa). Malacological  Review Supplement 1. Pages 1-117.


Robertson, Imogene C. S. and Clifford L. Blakeslee. 1948. The Mollusca of the Niagara Frontier Region. Bulletin of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences. Vol. 19(3). Buffalo, New York.


Thompson, Fred G. 2004. An Identification Manual for the Freshwater Snails of Florida.   Florida Museum of Natural history, University of Florida.


Wood, W. M. 1892. Paludina japonica Mart. for sale in the San Francisco Chinese markets. Nautilus 5:114-115.


Wood's Creek under a July sky.


White Water-lily buds just open.


Pickerel- Weed in July.


The snail's foot can be seen as it glides on the silty creek edge.


What they look like out of water.