Plant Cuttings

Gardeners 1: Snails 0…

We at Cuttings HQ hate waste. So, when, and rather belatedly, spring-cleaning the Cuttings’ archives in August 2016, I unearthed a news item penned for November 2014 that hadn’t been published – neither in print nor on the AoB Blog! – I knew it had to be given an appropriate airing. And, as luck would have it, it is still timely. So, here it is – finally! As we proceed through autumn into winter there is much talk in the UK of the annual invasion of our homes by spiders. Such conversation usually turns to ways of dealing with these ‘creepy-crawlies’ (e.g. this) that might deter or repel those unwanted, uninvited, and unwelcome houseguests.

In particular, there are digressions into so-called ‘old wives’ tales’ territory, such as the use of Aesculus hippocastanum seeds (which are known as ‘conkers’ in the UK)* as a snail deterrent. But, that’s a mere sideshow, even if it has some plant-relevance. The news that we should be celebrating is the discovery of a scientifically-sound, foolproof way of getting rid of snails.

French cooked snails
French cooked snails. Photo: J. Patrick Fischer / Wikipedia

Snails – as every hard-core horticulturalist knows – are one of the main scourges of the garden and will happily munch their way through all of the tender seedlings and some of the mature plants that we try to grow. Indeed, were it not for the over-attentiveness of those shelled molluscs – and their unshelled relatives, the slugs – my own garden would surely be a paradise on Earth and provide an endless bounty of edible (and solely for its human cultivators’ delectation) fruits and vegetables.

Well, the sure answer to getting rid of these myriad marauding molluscs (and one which probably avoids a criminal charge of molluscicide) is to take the law (well, the Laws of Physics anyway…) into one’s own hands (quite literally). For, a serious, sober scientific study in the journal Physica Scripta** investigating whether snails exhibit homing behaviour not only provided evidence in support of that notion, but has also – serendipitously – given us a non-lethal [Ed. – maybe, but certainly one that doesn’t involve use of environmentally damaging chemicals] snail-control technique.

David Dunstan and David Hodgson show that if snails are ‘removed’ 20 metres from their ‘home’ garden they do not return. Those of a nervous disposition, or molluscophilic nature, shouldn’t dwell on how the snails are removed that far, but gardeners everywhere should be encouraged to strengthen their throwing arms for next year’s battle with the snails! And remember, you heard it here first (eventually). Now, how do we deal with slugs?

*Yes, I know, “not that old chestnut…”.

**Physica Scripta is published by the IOP (the Institute of Physics) on behalf of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (of Nobel Prize fame) for the Science Academies and the Physical Societies of the Nordic Countries.

[Ed. – an interesting editorial by Suzy Lidström accompanies the two Davids’ “Snails Home” paper and promotes it as a good example of an article that should be of interest to “considerably younger readers than those we have traditionally aimed to reach”. And one which additionally provides “interesting examples of statistical methods in action for lectures in a wide variety of university courses…”. So, for those of you looking for undergraduate projects with plant–animal interactions/horticultural/crop-protection/snail-tossing dimensions, you could do worse than encourage your own students to emulate this study. Just don’t launch the snails in the direction of my garden!

And, if you can’t get rid of your unwanted spiders, at least – if you’re in the UK – you can use an ‘app’ that will help you identify them. Created by a collaboration between the Royal Society of Biology and the University of Gloucestershire, the deliberately funky and ‘down wi’v da kids’, rap -sounding app, entitled ‘Spider in Da House’, is available for both Apple and Android devices. Sadly, it only deals with 12 – of the approx. 660 species (!) – of UK spiders.]