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Curiosity, Jell-O EGLE employee gives a footnote in the history of pathology in Michigan

A kayak trip on the Bear Marquette River where Sarah Lesage discovered New Zealand's first gaseous mud nails in the Michigan River.(as part of Invasive Aquatic Species Awareness Week, MI Environment. Story by Hugh McDiarmid, Jr. About New Zealand’s invasive fingernails found in the Michigan River.)

Sarah Lessig might not be included in the history books of pathology (studying mollusks, of course!), but a lazy summer kayak trip several years ago certainly earned her a sideline in Michigan snail history. All because she can’t stop working!

Let’s explain.

LeSage is the Invasive Aquatic Species Program Coordinator at EGLE. All she and her 10 friends wanted was to get away from work, stress, and maybe even family on the annual sun-soaked kayak trip on the Bear Marquette River. And it went according to plan, until literally “The Job” appeared before LeSage’s surprised eyes.

LeSage was chilling on a sandbar in her kayak when someone shouted “Jell-O!” Throw a box on its way. She missed it, and the lemon-green square sank to the bottom. Nobody wastes good food (or river waste!) LeSage went after him. Next to the trembling jellyfish, on the pebbles under about a foot of water was……was…… what the heck was?!

I went up screaming ‘Holy aura’ (or something close!) You guys are looking at these snails. They just said to me, ‘Ah, shut up, Sarah! “

Unfazed by the indifference of her friends, she thought briefly whether she would eat the river water cure. “Then I ate it and used the bowl to collect the snails.”

An analysis by a consultant in Wisconsin confirmed that LeSage had found the first invasive mud nails from New Zealand in the Michigan River.

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New Zealand’s toenails are amazingly resilient, contain no natural predators or parasites in the United States, can reach an astounding population density, and outpace native snails and water bugs for food, with potential implications for the food chain.

New Zealand’s small size makes it easy to hike long distances with plants, mud or debris on fishing poles, nets, waders, boots, buckets, boats, canoes, and flotation devices and find their way into a river or other stream. Anything that is in the water or at the water’s edge must be checked before it is filled or loaded.

Since the discovery of LeSage in 2015, the New Zealand mudslide has been discovered in five other Michigan rivers: the Manistee, Pine, Boardman, AuSable, and Grass rivers.

EGLE and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources work with a variety of partners to understand distribution, evaluate monitoring and decontamination techniques, educate fishermen, and evaluate the effects of this invasive mollusk. Partners include Michigan State and Oakland Universities, Trout Unlimited, the US Forest Service, Lake Superior State University, and citizen scientists.

LeSage says her experience is an example of how vigilant citizens can help track environmental and water threats. Anyone who notices anything weird out of the ordinary while out in the woods or waterways can check it out:

The Michigan Invasive Species Program is implemented collaboratively by the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Caption: A kayak trip on the Bear Marquette River where Sarah Lesage discovered the first gaseous mud nails from New Zealand in the Michigan River.

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