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Border surveillance helps keep exotic snail species out of the country

A small pointed snail in canola leaves
Photo: Evan Collis

An incursion of exotic land snails is one ingredient Australian grain producers would rather not add to their crop.

Several exotic invasive snails and slugs have been intercepted at the Australian border, including the chocolate-banded snail (Massylaea vermiculata), the heath snail (Xerolenta obvia) and the 'lentil snail' (Caracollina lenticula), which is named after its lentil-like appearance.

To help grain producers minimise the risk posed by these snails, the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Plant Health Australia and Biosecurity South Australia are providing information on what to look for in case any snails make it through our stringent border controls.

National Border Surveillance (NBS) coordinator and snail expert Nathan Luke has recently been in discussion with a leading American snail expert about the risks posed by exotic snails and slugs to the Australian grain industry.

The NBS team works within the Department of Agriculture to detect exotic pests and diseases that may have arrived on goods, containers, aircraft or vessels.

The threat

National Border Surveillance
National Border Surveillance coordinator and snail expert Nathan Luke. Photo: Courtesy Nathan Luke

"The snails already in Australia, mostly of European-Mediterranean origin, pose a threat to Australia's access to markets and require costly field control measures," Mr Luke says.

He says the control methods for these snails are becoming increasingly incompatible with current farming practices, so there is a risk that exotic species could easily get a foothold in Australia.

"The majority of snails that are a threat to Australian grain production are located in areas such as the temperate regions of the US and Europe that have similar climates to our southern growing regions," Mr Luke says.

"Vigilant border surveillance has prevented incursions, but if these exotic snails or slugs were to become established our control measures would be further compromised."

Be aware

Mr Luke says it is important that grain growers are aware of potential threats to their crops.

"For snails, this includes being aware of their ability to hitch-hike. It is important to thoroughly check anything coming on to your property to reduce the risk of snails or other hitch-hiker pests spreading."

Many temperate snail species are round in shape and up to 30 millimetres in diameter, but invasive snails can vary in size and shape.

"Unfortunately, the invasive temperate species are not easily distinguished from local species, and it is also very difficult to tell the difference between the juvenile versions of these snails," he says.

"In areas where snail control is part of routine management it is also important to take note of the mix of species present, especially when control measures fail or are under-performing. This might be a sign that there is a new type of snail on your property."

Judy Bellati is the Grains Biosecurity Officer for South Australia with the Grains Farm Biosecurity Program, an initiative of Plant Health Australia and Grain Producers Australia.

More information: Plant Health Australia - Grains Farm Biosecurity Program.

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