Take a walk along San Pedro’s White Point nature trails and you’ll probably notice something odd:
Thousands of them, clinging vertically in dense, white-shelled clumps on the stems of wild sunflowers, in the crevices of wooden sign posts, on the sides of buildings and on blades of grass.
“Folks are very curious about the snails,” said Adrienne Mohan, executive director of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy, which oversees the 102-acre White Point Preserve, 1600 W. Paseo del Mar.
The massive invasion of the nickel-sized white garden snails, formally named Theba pisana, is likely due to all the rain Southern California received in during the winter and spring, experts said. The populations typically “explode” after rainy seasons, said Holly Gray, education program manager for the conservancy.
The snails are native to the Mediterranean and are believed to have reached the U.S. about 150 years ago via cargo ship. Preferring coastal, sandy areas, the snails found a friendly climate in Southern California and have been seen on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Orange County and San Diego.
During the hot, dry season, the snails climb onto vertical plants or other structures to seal themselves up, keeping from drying out as they wait for the coming rains. They reproduce at a high rate and increasingly have been classified as a serious agricultural pest, feeding off the plants.
But no pesticides can be used at the preserve, so ridding the property of the snails remains strictly old-school — as in hand-picking them off.
People are free to pluck and take them away, Gray said, adding that they have been used to feed pet ducks and turtles. Humans, however, should not consume them, she added.
“We’d love it if there was a way to control the population,” Gray said, “but it’s just very difficult.”
The conservancy may have to come to terms with the unwanted house guests.
“The (U.S.) Agricultural Department said they’re here to stay,” Gray said.