Escar-gone: Mysterious Gilroy snail-kill probed

Hundreds of dead snails line the sidewalk near the intersection of Cameron Boulevard and Venture Way in Gilroy's McCarthy Business Park. Experts say, pending test results, a landscape maintenance group likely applied pesticide. Following the Dispatch's qu

GILROY— Sleuths at the Santa Clara County Agricultural Commissioner’s office are investigating the mysterious deaths of at least 1,000 European brown snails in a Gilroy business park.
The creatures appear to have dried up and died after fleeing in a mass exodus from landscaped medians and curbs on the 6000 block of Cameron Boulevard near Venture Way in the sprawling McCarthy Business Park off Highway 152 in south Gilroy.
Preliminary indications point to pesticides, agricultural officials said.
“My first bet is someone (in landscape maintenance) is trying to get rid of them,” County Agricultural Commissioner Joseph Deviney told the Dispatch Wednesday. “We’ll find out what they used, who used it and to make sure it was a legal and proper application,” he said in response to a Dispatch inquiry.
Deviney said a biologist visited the scene and will prepare a report in the coming days.
The commissioner’s office is tasked with ensuring “the safe, responsible and judicious use of pesticides by farmers, pest control companies, government, industry and the general public,” according to its website.
A wildlife expert with the Morgan Hill-based Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center (WERC) agreed with Deviney’s theory after reviewing photographs of the scene.
“Some sort of pesticide has been put in the vegetation and the snails tried to outrun it,” said longtime volunteer Joy Joyner.
She pointed to the potential harm pesticides, in particular snail and slug bait, can have on animals that feed on the invertebrates.
“All of the snails’ predators can be sickened or killed by snail bait,” Joyner said. “This seemingly benign action of ‘getting rid of snails’ can trickle up the food chain and cause harm to many more species.”
Birds hunt the snails and feed on them, particularly during the spring when they need additional protein to feed offspring and extra calcium to strengthen the shells of their eggs, according to Joyner. Frogs, lizards and snakes also feed on snails. And slug baits that use iron phosphate kill earthworms, she added.
Other commonly used slug baits contain the chemicals metaldehyde or carbaryl, which are restricted by the Environmental Protection Agency that can only be legally applied by licensed contractors or individuals.
Even if the application is deemed legal and proper, WERC Director of Animal Care Colleen Grzan said she hopes those responsible “will be responsible and desist.”
Slug and snail bait can be legally purchased at stores, according to a spokesperson for the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.