Land snails of Victoria

Identification

Land snails belong to the phylum Mollusca, the second-largest phylum in the animal kingdom. Within the phylum, snails belong to the class Gastropoda which typically possess: a well developed head bearing a mouth, tentacles & eyes; a visceral mass containing the reproductive & digestive organs, and a large foot with a creeping sole. Apart from a few exceptions most land snails belong to the order Pulmonata (gastropods which have developed a pulmonary cavity or lung). The shell of the snail houses and protects the soft parts of the animal.

Photo of Introduced Garden Snail, Cantareus aspersa

Introduced Garden Snail, Cantareus aspersa
Photographer: Alan Henderson / Source: Museum Victoria

Distribution and habitat

Land snails occupy a variety of terrestrial habitats, including gardens, scrub, bush, rainforest and even desert. While native molluscs are still present in large numbers, the majority of molluscs species present in Victoria are introduced species. The distributions of most of the native snails are restricted to areas with native vegetation. In urban areas, the introduced species such as Cantareus aspersa (Common Garden Snail) are most frequently encountered.

Photo of Native carnivorous snail, Victaphanta atramentaria

Native carnivorous snail, Victaphanta atramentaria
Photographer / Source: Ross Field

Four species of native Victorian land snails, Allocharopa erskinensis, Geminoropa scindocataracta, Pernagera gatliffi and Victaphanta compacta are listed as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act.

Biology

Snails feed on a variety of foods. Many feed on living plants, and some on decaying vegetable matter. Others are carnivorous, choosing to eat other small invertebrates, such as insect larvae or other snails and slugs. Many of the introduced species of snails can be a serious pest in cultivated gardens, crops and pasture. Snails are hermaphrodite and are reciprocal fertilisers (that is, they can fertilise each other).

Escargot

Snails have long been used as a food by humans. The European edible snail Helix pomatia is a prohibited import into Australia, so the local industry must manage with the smaller species Cantareus aspersa, the common garden snail. Research has been undertaken to explore the culinary potential of large native species, but the results are inconclusive at this stage.

Further Reading

Barker, G. M. 1999. Naturalised Terrestrial Stylommatophora (Mollusca: Gastropoda). Fauna of New Zealand, volume 38. Whenua Press, New Zealand.

Beesley, P. L. et al. (eds) 1998. Mollusca, the Southern Synthesis. Fauna of Australia, volume 5. CSIRO Publishing, East Melbourne.

Smith, B. J. 1979. Field Guide to the Non-marine Molluscs of South-eastern Australia. ANU Press, Canberra.

Smith, B. J. 1992. Non-Marine Mollusca. In Houston, W. W. K. (ed.) Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Canberra: AGPS Vol. 8.

Comments (13)

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(Mrs) Lin Mulhall 30 November, 2010 10:25
In Caroline Springs have large numbers of small white snails on fences and gardens - we suspect they are carnivorous. Are they native? What do they eat? Are they beneficial? Willing to bring some in for identification.
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Discovery Centre 1 December, 2010 09:07
Hi Lin, in order for an accurate identification to be made, the Collection Managers and Curators would need either the specimen or a clear image of the specimen, with something in the photo to give an indication of size.  You can email images to us in the Discovery Centre, or come in and visit us with one of the snails.
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Brian May 15 March, 2011 10:13
I noticed the same thing on a farm near Ballarat, the snail is up to 5 mm long, of uneven grey colour, and the shell is a pointed cone just like the tiny snails you see in rock pools except the shell is softer. The farmer said they only appeared this year and they are on the leaves of plants. I suspect they are a pest but could not find any pictures on pest website listings for Australia. They are hard to photograph being so small
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Bob REID 29 May, 2013 12:27
I recently {27-5-13]found a snail in my yard that sounds like the one you described.Any more info. Regards Bob
Melissa and Shelbi 15 April, 2011 09:03
We have found a wonderful little snail in our backyard (Daylesford, Victoria). We've never seen one like it (we're avid snail lovers!) and we'd love to know what this fella is. How can I submit a photo to you? It has a dark flat shell, and it's body is a dark blue. It's shell is about 1cm and body up to 2cm.
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Discovery Centre 16 April, 2011 17:00
Hi Melissa and Shelbi! You can attach a photo to the form on our Identifications page. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Lise Graber 21 April, 2011 14:48
I saw the comment of Brian May and I live south of Ballarat and this year I have seen a lot of very small snails with pointy shells. They are about 1 cm long. I have tried to do a search but have found nothing like them. I have quite a few here. Could it be because we have had so much rain the eggs have hatched from years ago? How do I send photo? Lise
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Discovery Centre 23 April, 2011 15:24
Hi Lise, you can send an image vis the Ask the Experts page here
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Lise Graber 24 April, 2011 09:06
The link does not work correctly. Lise
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sheila johnson 21 December, 2011 14:04
should we let our kinder children play with snails? They have enjoyed doing this all year,but recently I was told snails are dangerous! Apparently kids have died from handling snails.
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Discovery Centre 22 December, 2011 13:14

Hi Sheila, Snails can carry a number of parasites, some of which may cause us harm. The one that is often featured in the media is the Rat Lungworm, Angiostongylus cantonensis. Slug and snail parasites have been linked to the development of cysts in the brains of very young children. However, this is extremely rare and, because the parasites are associated with the snail's digestive system, infection can only occur if you eat a parasitised snail (or slug). We suggest that you treat snail handling as you would all gardening activities – wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards with soap. And don't eat snails!

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Vicki Mildren 1 November, 2012 15:09
i found a snail in my front yard this morning that i have never seen before and am wondering whether it might be an introduced species. it is a black snail with an orangey/brown stripe on the shell, but not as many rings as the garden snail. it is all black, and i didn't notice any brown at the bottom part of the body like the black snail in the pic above. i live in the Goulburn Valley. hoping you can help, yours, Vicki
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Discovery Centre 2 November, 2012 11:01
Hi Vicki, we can help you identify the snail, but will need an image, or the snail!  Have a look at the identification guidelines for details.
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