A reason to track your backyard snails

Snails’ small presence – physically and in our consciousness – belies their outsized predicament and significance to ecosystems. Associate Professor Thom van Dooren and his colleagues want to highlight this through an inclusive, interactive citizen science project.

What’s small, slimy and runs the world? According to famed American biologist, naturalist, and writer E.O. Wilson, snails and other invertebrates.

These critters are the subject of a new project, launched today: the Urban Field Naturalist Guide to Snail Homing, that recognises the threat to snails and the critical role they play in supporting ecosystems.

The project helps people find snails in their gardens or local green spaces and track them by marking their shells with nail polish or non-toxic paint.

“This project is designed to help people to learn a bit more about the fascinating lives of snails, about their home ranges and their attachment to the places they rest each day,” project co-creator, Associate Professor Thom van Dooren said. “Snails rely on chemo-reception, a bit like our sense of smell, to navigate the world, and in many cases, they seem to be pretty tied to specific home places.”

A painting of a snail

Credit: The Urban Field Naturalist Guide to Snail Homing.

Together with Dr Zoë Sadokierski in the School of Design at UTS, he created the guide to draw attention to some of the smaller, often-overlooked, wildlife that is all around us, as well as provide some healthy distraction in these isolating times.

“This is particularly important,” van Dooren said, “because many invertebrates are disappearing en masse, with species becoming extinct at an alarming rate. Any yet these species play a range of important but often overlooked roles in ecosystems. These include:

  • pollination
  • seed dispersal
  • nutrient cycling
  • being important food sources for a range of other species.

“Snails have been particularly hard hit by extinctions. In fact, worldwide, there have been more documented extinctions of snails than there have been of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, combined.

“Despite this, snails and other invertebrates (comprising roughly 99 per cent of the animal kingdom) are largely ignored in public discussions of extinction.”

Hero image: Camila Sánchez on Unsplash.

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