HINKLEY For tiny creatures no bigger than a few millimeters, Esmeralda Velasquez's snails outwitted the competition again, taking the regional science fair for a second year in a row.

The seventh-grader at Hinkley School, whose project last year won her an honorable mention at the state level, will once again compete in the California science fair next month.

She won first place in the zoology division this year competing against about 26 students from four counties San Bernardino, Riverside, Mono and Inyo. Velasquez also took the sweepstakes award at the districtwide competition in February.

Last year Velasquez's project determined that water quality alters the number of eggs a pond snail produces. This year, she expanded upon that theme by testing if a snail from one isolated group will reproduce with snails from another and what kind of affect that would have on their offspring.

Velasquez's results showed that cross-bred snails snails initially from two separate groups produced more eggs than those that mated with snails in their isolated group. However offspring from snails that mated within their own group matured faster, she said.

As she prepares for the approaching state competition, Velasquez said she is just fine-tuning her research and continuing the experiment.

"I'm just continuing the data," she said. "I'm just preparing myself to know more about what I've done. And set it up so it's presentable for state."

According to Holly Bowser, who teaches sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade science at Hinkley School, much of her student's preparation for the state competition includes making sure all of her sources are cited. Preparation for the state competition also includes expanding on some of the information in her project.

Bowser said Velasquez began studying snails three years before her honorable mention win at state last year. The snails come from a fish pond that belongs to Bowser's parents, she said. Despite living in the middle of a desert, studying aquatic invertebrates is among the school's most popular science projects, she said.

Velasquez, her family and Bowser will travel to the state science fair at the California Science Center in Los Angeles May 2 and 3. Even after taking two projects to state, Velasquez said she has more questions about how her tiny gastropods reproduce. Questions she hopes to answer one day.

"I'm just looking to see where this project is leading me in the future," she said. "I may just become a scientist."

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(760) 256-4123 or jcejnar@desertdispatch.com