Study uncovers the secret lives of UK garden snail

Aug 23, 2013
Study uncovers the secret lives of UK garden snail

Researchers track nocturnal snail activity for the first time, using LED lights and time-lapse photography. Snails were tracked over 72 hours, with researchers measuring their speed, distance travelled and exploration habits. Snail numbers have risen in recent years due to favourable breeding conditions. Slugs and snails can carry the lungworm parasite, Angiostrongylus vasorum, which is potentially fatal to dogs.

A ground-breaking study of UK snail behaviour using LED and UV light tracking has found that the nocturnal creatures can explore the length of an average British garden in just one night, reaching a top speed of one metre per hour.

Dr Dave Hodgson, Associate Professor of Ecology from the University of Exeter, led the research which studied the habits of 450 garden snails, recording their movements using LED lights and UV paint. This is the first time snails have been studied in this way, creating some unexpectedly spectacular images. The research fed into the 'Slime Watch' report and documentary, commissioned by the Be Lungworm Aware campaign.

Dr Hodgson said:"The findings reveal how snails will travel distances of up to 25 metres in a 24-hour period, and seek out areas of shelter, such as long grass, trees or objects, including dogs' toys, left in the garden overnight. We also discovered that snails move in convoys, piggy-backing on the slime of other snails to conserve energy. It is thought that a snail could use up to 30 per cent of its energy in production alone."

The study was commissioned as a resource for , whose pets are at risk from a potentially fatal parasite spread by slugs and snails, the lungworm Angiostrongylus vasorum. The parasite is contracted when dogs accidentally swallow even the smallest slugs or snails, which can be found in dog toys, puddles and long grass.

In recent years, slugs and snails have enjoyed a due to increasing and favourable breeding conditions. Last year, the Royal Horticultural Society reported a 50 per cent increase in slug numbers. Slugs and Snails also topped a list of the top 10 garden pests in the UK, in findings published by the RHS for 2012.

But the risk is much more severe for dogs, with the rise in facilitating a spread of the fatal lungworm parasite. A recent survey suggests that lungworm is now endemic throughout much of the UK. 150 veterinary practices across the UK were questioned and between them reported a total of 952 suspected cases with 81 deaths thought to have been caused by the parasite.

Evidence from the Royal Veterinary College confirms that the parasite has spread from its traditional habitat in the south, to more northerly regions as far as Scotland, with one in five vet practices reporting at least one case of the parasite.

Explore further: Biologist finds animal groups share dominance dynamics

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Snail genetic tracks reveal ancient human migration

Jun 19, 2013

Some snails in Ireland and the Pyrenees are genetically almost identical, perhaps because they were carried across the Atlantic during an 8000-year-old human migration. The snail genetics tie in with studies ...

Eavesdropping plants prepare to be attacked

Aug 07, 2013

( —In a world full of hungry predators, prey animals must be constantly vigilant to avoid getting eaten. But plants face a particular challenge when it comes to defending themselves.

Slug-eating dare sparks Australia health alarm

May 13, 2010

Australian health authorities Thursday warned people against eating raw slugs after a man who reportedly ingested one as a dare became critically ill with a rare form of meningitis.

Recommended for you

Flocks of starlings ride the wave to escape

10 hours ago

Why does it seem as if a dark band ripples through a flock of European starlings that are steering clear of a falcon or a hawk? It all lies in the birds' ability to quickly and repeatedly dip to one side to avoid being attacked. ...

How did the chicken cross the sea?

12 hours ago

It may sound like the makings of a joke, but answering the question of how chickens crossed the sea may soon provide more than just a punch line.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.