ABC: Stowaway Snails Devastate Crops

If you ever watch those Customs shows and wonder why Australia is so tough on people bringing stuff into the country this might help.

From the ABC:

Stowaway snails become big pest for Yorke Peninsula farmers as expert warns of bumper year

Updated 38 minutes ago

Slimy invaders from afar have long been a staple of science fiction, thrilling and chilling audiences. Slimy invaders as a fact of farming life are much less entertaining.

Every season, before he starts seeding, Yorke Peninsula farmer Graham Hayes has to lay snail bait.

If he doesn’t do so, his crop will be destroyed by millions of Mediterranean snails.

“Well if they are in large enough numbers they’ll just eat all of the crop,” Mr Hayes said.

“There’s nothing that we grow that we can avoid having troubles with snails … if it grows, they’ll eat it.”

Those “troubles” occur right across the growing period.

In the early stages, while a crop is still green, Mr Hayes said the snails would eat it.

When the crop ripens, snails get caught up in harvesters: clogging the machinery and contaminating the grain

CSIRO scientist Geoff Baker is Australia’s foremost snail expert, having spent three decades musing over the molluscs.

He has warned this year has the potential to be a bumper snail season, for two main reasons — the recent wet and mild summer, and the snails’ ability to juggle their breeding cycles.

“This is a bet-hedging strategy that the snails use, and many other invertebrate animals use, where they’ll sit tight if the weather’s not great for reproducing or they’ll go gangbusters if it is great,” Dr Baker said.

“And that, unfortunately, is what this season is looking like.”

The snails arrived on Yorke Peninsula more than a century ago, as slippery stowaways aboard sailing ships coming to collect grain.

Dr Baker said there were four distinct species of snail.

Generically they are all called the Mediterranean snail because of where they originated.

“They have distributions all the way from Scotland down to Morocco from Portugal through to the Middle East,” Dr Baker said.

“So there’s a big, wide distribution, they’ve come accidentally to Australia and they’ve become a problem.

“They’ve hit pay dirt, they’ve escaped the natural enemies that have a huge impact on their abundance in their native habitat.”

Read the full story at the ABC

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