Otala punctata is the scientific name of a snail indigenous in Spain but which a few years ago was discovered in the Maltese islands.
It does not seem to have an established name in English. In Spanish it is called la cabrilla which according to an online translator means the leopard. In a database it was referred to as the Spanish snail so for this article to avoid constantly using its scientific name I decided to call it the Spanish leopard. It has not yet been given a Maltese name.
This species can be found in eastern Spain, the Balearic Islands, Corsica, the south of France and northwestern Algeria. Nowadays it can also be found in the Americas including the United States, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. In the United States it is being assumed that it could be a serious pest which could have negative effects on agriculture, and local biodiversity. In Europe it has been found also in Sardinia.
It appeared in Malta around 2003. It established itself in the areas surrounding a plant nursery in Mosta which indicates that it was probably imported accidentally with plants. Studies have shown that its range expanded slowly into the surrounding areas.
It was recently recorded in fields around Baħrija. No Spanish leopards were recorded between Baħrija and Mosta. This indicates that the snails in Baħrija were introduced there by humans. Although it is possible that this was an accidental introduction it could also have been introduced intentionally.
If this did happen it was a very irresponsible act as the introduction could have many negative consequences for the area.
Introduced species often do not have natural enemies and often increase in numbers to the detriment of local species. The Spanish leopard is very similar to the indigenous common garden snail, the species that is collected for cooking and could interact negatively with it.
It could also become a serious pest, creating more problems to the farmers of the area. This could lead to the use of even more snail poison with more negative consequences to the environment.
In Spain this species is cooked in a spicy tomato sauce and no harm would be done if it is also collected in Malta for consumption.