The secret lives of snails

Understanding how a potentially fatal parasite, lungworm, is spread to household pets could be improved thanks to a recent study from the University of Exeter’s Dr David Hodgson, Associate Professor of Ecology.

The survey revealed the movements of snails, which carry lungworm, across British gardens, demonstrating the growing threat of the parasite to dogs.

The research fed into the ‘Slime Watch’ report, commissioned by ‘Be Lungworm Aware’. This is a campaign sponsored by pharmaceutical company Bayer, designed to raise lungworm awareness amongst dog owners.

Dr Hodgson discusses the survey further in the below video:

The research achieved three major findings:

  • The fastest snails moved at one metre per hour overnight.
  • Snails moved in all directions, but during the day settled in long grass, tree bases and nooks and crannies.
  • Snails clearly followed each other’s slime trails. This is because slime production is energy intensive and thus it is sensible to exploit any slime already available.

Dr Hodgson became involved when he was contacted by healthcare communications consultancy Pegasus PR in April 2013. They requested he collaborate on Slime Watch by investigating snail behaviour.

As snails move mostly at night, Dr Hodgson opted for the use of miniature LED lights, UV paint and the assistance of a time-lapse camera crew and a team of undergraduates to carry out the research with an artistic angle.

Together with staff and students from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation, the team collected 450 garden snails, painted them and attached the lights. They were released one night and captured using time lapse cameras, before analysis was carried out back on campus.