The art and science of land snail research

Craig Eddie with one of the drawers open showing his extensive collection of land snails

Few people would know that Australia has several thousand named species of land snails. These are an often-overlooked component of the invertebrate fauna of the Australian bush, which is not surprising given most of them are smaller than a 20 cent piece and they are mainly active at night, after rain.

Our contribution to land snail research

Our Director and Principal Ecologist Craig Eddie has had a lifelong interest in Australian native land snails. 

His interest developed during early childhood while exploring the bushland of the Toowoomba Range escarpment. As there were no identification guides (or internet resources!) for south-east Queensland land snails at the time, the only way to have these species identified was to send them to land snail experts at the Queensland Museum. The resulting identifications, which included species then new to science, fuelled Craig’s interest and the desire to discover what other species might be out there.

Over subsequent years, Craig developed a close association with land snail researchers at the Queensland Museum which led to voluntary work experience, a university industrial placement and a post-graduate position at the museum to assist with the study of Australian land snails.

Throughout Craig’s career, land snail research has remained a focus and he maintains close ties with the Queensland Museum, while also continuing his own land snail research to this day.

How do you conduct research on land snails?

The first thing you need to do when researching land snails is to collect specimens – which is a lot harder than it sounds! 

Land snails can be found under logs and rocks, in leaf litter at the base of trees and sometimes living in trees themselves. Live specimens can be difficult to find, but the discarded shells of dead individuals provide a valuable record of what species live in a certain area. 

As many species are tiny (about the size of a pinhead), leaf litter samples are routinely collected from each site. These samples are sieved and then searched (soil grain by soil grain) under a microscope to extract the tiny species. 

Live specimens can be very difficult to find, particularly during times of drought, so night time searches after rain may be necessary. Live specimens are beneficial for the description of the living animal, to better understand the biology of the species, and to extract DNA.

Specimens collected from the field are then sorted into species and sent to the Queensland Museum where they are held in storage. The specimens are then available to any researchers who may be studying a particular group of land snails.

Land snails are an important component of ecosystems as they are decomposers and provide food for many other animals.

A close up of Craig Eddie's extensive snail collection

Dedicated to continuous discovery and knowledge sharing

Craig and the team at Boobook Ecological Consulting continue to collect land snail specimens from many areas in Queensland with a focus on the Brigalow Belt of southern Queensland. This region has been intensively developed and many of the habitats for land snails have been lost to development. However, the vine thickets and woodlands that remain harbour a diverse land snail fauna, many of which have very small distributions. 

Many new species have been discovered – some of which have been recently described by Dr John Stanisic, Australia’s foremost expert on land snails. These include: 

To chat about how we can collaborate on land snail research, contact us. 

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Boobook Ecological Consulting has built its success on decades I first-hand knowledge of the natural ecosystems of the southern Queensland drylands combined with practical understanding of the complex pressures that impinge on Australia’s fragile environment.