Following the trail to track snails

Following the trail to track snails

Kate Ballard is conducting research she hopes will be able to identify whether snails communicate via their mucus trails.

Kate Ballard is conducting research she hopes will be able to identify whether snails communicate via their mucus trails.


A PhD researcher is seeing if there are secrets in snail trails that can be used to help mitigate crop damage from the pests.


EVERYBODY knows the tell-tale silvery trail means there are snails about, but there is more to the little lines you find on your concrete path than meets the eye.

A Queensland PhD student is working on understanding better how snail mucus trails are used by the gastropods to communicate with each other.

This could have potentially big impacts in terms of allowing the grains industry to better manage problem species of snails.

Small and slow as they are, snails are a major pest within the grains industry, particularly in South Australia, both in terms of crop damage and contamination of crop samples.

Officials estimate they cause around $40 million worth of damage each year.

Kate Ballard, of the University of the Sunshine Coast is conducting her PhD project on the complex topic of "Molecular components and bioactivity of land snail trail mucus' aims to unlock snail secrets for the benefit of agriculture'.

In layman's terms she is going to attempt to find out whether snails use their trails to communicate and if they do how that can be used beneficially in baiting programs.

"We know that insects use pheromones to communicate, and that's now a commonly used pest control technique where pheromones are synthetically made to lure pests and catch them," she said.

"The idea behind this research is to be able to achieve a similar option for grain farmers in southern areas of Australia who struggle with the cost of pest snails."

As you would expect, the PhD study, being carried out at USC's Genecology Research Centre, is a laborious process.

The aim is to collect selected snail tissues and proteins in snail mucus trails, then comparing the data sets between breeding and non-breeding season.

"As everyone knows, snails move very, very slowly, so waiting for them to move and monitoring them to see if they leave behind a mucus trail that's of use to my research is not a quick process," Ms Ballard said.

"It could take some months to collect the data necessary, but once it's finalised, I'll be able to conduct some behavioural experiments to see how snails respond to any proteins which might be used as pheromones in chemical communication, which I hope to be able to identify," she said.


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