The Great British Snail Swap


I can't remember the last time a BBC story made me so happy.  Once again, the Brits prove their superiority in all things horticultural. Could you imagine Americans plucking snails from their garden, making a unique identifying mark on their shells, and swapping them with a neighbor up the road, all in the name of science?

Really.  British people:  I love you.  I love you all.

The BBC reports on a question put forth on 'So You Want To
Be A Scientist,' a segment on Radio 4's Material World program.  The question had to do with whether snails return to the garden after you've relocated them to another spot.  Do they possess some kind of homing instinct that will drive them right back to your very own garden after you've gone to all the trouble to move them?

Wait a minute.  I need to back up here.  This question is relevant to British gardeners because apparently some of them collect snails and humanely relocate them to another spot down the road, rather than crushing them underfoot, drowning them in beer, sprinkling salt on them, feeding them to the chickens, tossing tightly-sealed bags of them in the trash, poisoning them with Sluggo, or–my favorite–tossing them into the street so cars can run over them.

Yes, there is a country where it is a common enough practice to humanely relocate snails that questions must be asked about it!

Okay.  Got that part?  Now back to the story:  This question was apparently so important and interesting to the British public that it was selected from among a thousand similar questions for a major research project. 

The Great Snail Swap encourages gardeners to collect snails, mark them, swap them, inspect the garden to see if their snails have returned, and report their results online. There's a research diary on Facebook, and–well–the whole thing is just terribly exciting.  The results will be reported next month. I know it will be intolerable for us all to wait that long, but wait we must.

Meanwhile, would anyone like to swap a snail with me?  I could also give you an earthworm, a dozen or so black ants, a pregnant European cross spider, and a pebble. Take them all, and we'll see if they come back. I'll station my cat near the front door to watch for their return.  You do the same.


  1. Thank you once again for a lovely start to my day. I’m nearly (note: not quite, I would have to touch them) thinking of doing this with my neighbour. She’s English and would love this experiment. Maybe I can convince her to pick them up and mark them, ohhhh that would mean that she puts them in my garden, maybe not then.

  2. It is the height of slug and snail season; each pot and plant has a population of at least 200 – 300. I’ve seen snails atop snails on other snails. Earlier in the year I do just throw them as far as possible (which easily clears my garden edges), but it is summer here, grass is growing a foot tall between my bricks. When I walk through it to water the pots, I hear the crunching under my shoes -always wear shoes. Forget humane practice.

  3. Thanks for the day brightener. I know that someone somewhere values these cursed things. They are, after all, the same kind used in France for escargot (imported & then set free here when Californians didn’t cotton to the idea of eating slimy gastropods, no matter the amount of garlic butter).

    I’ll swap all of the snails in my yard for your earthworm/spider grab-bag. It might take me a while to collect them, but when I do … what’s your address ?

  4. Snails and slugs are small time compared to the havoc squirrels cause… My peach tree is coming into full fruit and I have an army of these buggers descending on my backyard. I have a Havahart trap set now (with peanut butter bait – it is like cocaine to a squirrel). I catch a couple each day and then transport them to a city park about two miles away. My question – do they eventually return to the scene? I have thought of marking them with a dye or paint. Anybody been down that road???

    Thanks and have a great day!

  5. As a transplanted (pun intended) garden-blogging from Miami, I can tell you that I also collect and relocate garden pests. I know the lubbers, the giant grasshopper/locusts, don’t return. And I listen to Radio 4 online because it’s the best radio service on the planet. 🙂

  6. I could see some Americans doing this. Like myself. I hate to kill snails, they are lovely… compared to slugs. Not so much.

  7. Naomi – I support your statement completely.

    Mark Amershek – SAME HERE. Squirrels are a true menace and I hate them.

    Best snail use I’ve found is crushed and mixed into my compost heap. All that nitrogenous slime and calcium must be doing something right.

  8. I’m heartless then ’cause I consider them a pest that is capable of enough havoc that I kill them before they reproduce any more. The snails in the UK are FIERCE GROSS.

  9. Fantastic! I love it! That there are such adults who are still exploring, still learning, still experimenting (in a world where a majority are TV-brain-dead by their 30’s or earlier) is wonderful.

    I watch butterflies, wait for the fireflies at dusk, observe assassin bugs lying in wait for lunch, marvel at my success in raising toads (I don’t do anything!:)…

    What a wonderful world! Always something new to learn!

  10. Oh gosh, there is so much to be joyful about in this post, in the comments after it, and of course in the very idea of labeling and tracking snails.

    It’s too cold for snails here, but we have very large slugs. I shouldn’t have them at all, here in the cold desert, but they have migrated over the mountains on nursery plants and now we have giant brown ones lurking and sliming.

    For a long time I went out each night at dusk and collected them on a board (wearing gloves) then I put them out at the farthest corner of my yard — very dry — and freed them. I thought of it as ‘putting them on probation’. But the suckers came back! I followed the slime trails. Since then I just fling them over the fence to my neighbor’s yard (shh, don’t tell him) or I — gasp — snip them in half with my garden scissors.

    As for the larger critters, and those ‘humane’ traps…… when we called the critter control guys a few years ago to remove the skunks living under our deck, they told us that they didn’t use live traps. Furthermore, it was their opinion that people releasing animals in outlying areas (rather than killing them) not only put them in harm’s way by setting them down in the middle of some other like animal’s home territory, but it also had caused the survivors to increase the range of the pest far beyond their original territory.

    Now, about those deer — any takers out there? I promise to let you know if they return to my yard, if you will be take them as far away as possible. Maybe someone in Massachusetts? England? Afghanistan?

  11. I wish we did things like that here. It would spread the wealth, per say. We can learn alot form other people.

  12. This is one of the few things that I can understand. People should help each other out. This is a small thing but, a great thing.

  13. So I am not wierd, I am just British -:)In North London my garden was Snailarama…so I would round them up in a paper sack and take them up to the cementary up the road which was full of juicy plants for them to munch on. I’m pretty sure they hiked back, as this was a continual event. The Houston Texas snails seem more laid back…they live in harmony with the lizards & giant tree roaches in my garden. Snails are beautiful…their shells are a marvel of design. It seems curious to me that we humans label some creatures ‘slimey’, ‘ugly’ etc. It’s all a matter of perspective; beauty is in the eye of the beholder…and we humans are pretty darn homely & wear strange garments. No elegant beautiful shell, or sleek stripey fur.

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