The New Zealand mud snail (Potamopyrgus antipodarum) is an invasive species that became established in the western United States since the 1980s. In suitable habitat, especially in geothermal streams with high primary production, it can form dense colonies on aquatic vegetation and rocks along streambeds, crowding out insect communities—a primary food for immature trout and other native species.
New Zealand mud snails consume a large amount of algae, which is a primary food for native aquatic invertebrates. Its overall impact on algae is likely to affect entire stream food webs. With its protective shell, the mud snail provides little if any nutrition as prey and may pass through a fish alive. Scarcely a quarter-inch long, mud snails may cling to boats, waders, and other fishing gear by which they are inadvertently transferred to another watershed. Because the species can reproduce asexually, a single mud snail is all that is required to establish a new colony.
First detected in the park in 1994, New Zealand mud snails are now in all of the major watersheds. Although the mud snail is abundant in several streams, it remains absent or uncommon in other Greater Yellowstone streams, suggesting that its upstream population density and distribution is limited by colder temperatures, low productivity, and unstable substrates associated with spring runoff.
Impacts of Mud Snails
Once mud snail colonies become established in a stream, removing them without disrupting native invertebrate populations is not feasible with any known method. Mud snail research in Greater Yellowstone aims to determine the species’ impacts on other aquatic organisms and stream ecology. A study of the Gibbon and Madison rivers found that 25–50% of the macroinvertebrates were mud snails, and the areas they occupied had fewer native mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies—insects important in the diet of salmonids and several bird species.
Lake trout prey on Yellowstone cutthroat trout.
Rainbow trout are native to North America in waters which drain to the Pacific Ocean from northern Mexico to Alaska.
Eastern Brook Trout
Eastern brook trout was the first nonnative species introduced in Yellowstone—stocked in the (then fishless) Firehole River in 1889.
Fisheries & Aquatic Sciences Program
Explore the National Park Service science program for fish and aquatic species.
Native Fish Species
Native fish underpin natural food webs and have great local economic significance.
Lake trout and other invasive species pose many threats to Yellowstone's aquatic ecosystem.
Last updated: September 6, 2019