Small Farms

Invasive snails kept off our rails

Biosecurity staff in Melbourne have intercepted and identified an obscure invasive snail species, which is spreading through southern states of the United States, usually along railway lines.

On 14 March 2017, 20 live snails were detected on the underside and on top of a shipping container that arrived in Melbourne from Fiji and were destroyed.

After initially suspecting they were juvenile Giant African Snails, scientists worked with malacologists from the Australian Museum, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, and the United States Department of Agriculture to identify the snail pest as Bulimulus c.f. sporadicus.

The Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources’ Deputy Secretary responsible for biosecurity, Lyn O’Connell, said this swift work kept Australia free from a species of major concern.

“Our biosecurity system is in place to protect Australia from pests and diseases not already present in Australia that threaten the economy and environment,” Ms O’Connell said.

“This snail species is believed to be South American, but is turning up all over the world—apparently entering via ports along shipping lanes.

“It appeared several years ago in Texas and has been spreading rapidly, usually associated with containers travelling along railway lines.

“While it is not a crop pest, it is considered aggressive and opportunistic.

“If it got into Australia, there is a risk it could spread and invade native vegetation habitats and compete with native snails.

“That’s why our biosecurity work is so important, and why we inspected 1 million cargo consignments in the 2015–16 financial year alone.

“It also shows the scientific element of biosecurity and the close working relationship of our experts with others in specialist fields.

“Identifying this emerging pest has put it firmly on the department’s radar.

“Foreign pests and diseases could affect our human, animal, and plant health, along with our agricultural industries.”

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