Monday, March 30, 2009

Counting snails for science

I rather like the idea that anyone can play a useful role in science. You don't have to be in a laboratory with lots of expensive equipment or even have access to a library full of books and journals (though it helps, I say wistfully). All you need these days is access to a computer and the internet and you can take part in a grand Darwinian experiment.

It involves going out to your nearest green space and looking for snails and cataloging them for colour and banding. The hypotheses being tested are these:
(i) the proportion of lighter coloured snails have increased due to global warming;
(ii) there are generally more snails because their arch enemy (or main predator), the thrush, have declined in number over the last thirty years.

(It is my impression that thrushes are coming back again - I often hear them tapping away on snail shells. It is the sparrows that have declined. I used to see a flock of them descend onto the grass, but nowadays there seem to be very few).

With thanks to Eric-the-blogless for pointing out my typos.


Blogger Susanna said...

Its been a big year for snails here in old Alabam

It must be the rain or something. cool experiment

Mon Mar 30, 11:49:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

What, lots of them, Susangalique? Do you have the same sorts of snails?

Mon Mar 30, 03:25:00 pm  
Blogger Ian said...

When I lived in Spain, I used to go out to my garden at night and shine a torch under the lettuce leaves. Then I collected all of the snails (there were a lot) in a bag and gave them to my next door neighbours. They tied the bag to their washing line, where it drained. After that they made a snail stew and gave me some. It was horrible. But, I like traditional French escargots with garlic sauce. Unfortunately,the French have eaten all of theirs so now they have to import them from Bulgaria.

Tue Mar 31, 01:19:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Best ever snail story, Ian! Thank you.

Tue Mar 31, 02:22:00 pm  
Blogger jem said...

Life has torn me away from blog reading lately. I've missed it immensely, especially yours. So many times I kept thinking, I wonder what's happening with those silkworms of Clares. I care about you too obviously, I wasn't just thinking about your insect friends! Glad to be back and catching up, but apologies for the lack of comments. If I commented on everything I'd fall behind in my reading again!

I heard that sparrows were in decline, but in my garden they are thriving. When we first moved in, 2003, there were only 2, but now I think there are approaching 17, and we are hoping for another crop this year. And that is despite occasional visits from the sparrowhawk!

Mon Apr 20, 01:43:00 pm  

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