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Tracking movement at a snail's pace
Snails can explore the length of an average British garden in a single night - reaching a top speed of one metre per hour, a new study reveals.
Scientists examined the habits of 450 garden snails recording their movements using LED lights, UV paints and time-lapse photography.
This is the first time snails have been studied in this way, creating some unexpectedly spectacular images.
The findings revealed 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. The four researchers from Exeter University 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% of its energy in slime production alone.
The study was commissioned as a resource for dog owners, 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.
Dr Dave Hodgson, associate professor of ecology at the University of Exeter, led the research. "Until now no one has fully understood the habits of these fascinating creatures that we encounter in our gardens every day," he said.
"In this research we wanted to solve the mystery surrounding gastropod activity and provide a resource for gardeners and pet owners wanting to better safeguard the health of their plants and pets. By learning more about the behaviour of snails, we hope dog owners can better understand the ways in which dogs can encounter snails on a day-to-day basis and the lungworm risk they present, taking the appropriate precautions."
Preventative treatment of lungworm infection in dogs is widely available and pet owners are advised to consult their vet if they are concerned.
In recent years, slugs and snails have enjoyed a population explosion due to increasing wet weather and favourable breeding conditions. Last year, the Royal Horticultural Society reported a 50% increase in slug numbers. And slugs and snails also topped a list of the top 10 garden pests in the UK, in findings published by the Royal Horticultural Society.
The Slime Watch report and documentary was commissioned by the Be Lungworm Aware campaign, set up by Bayer Animal Health.