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Snail study homes in on win for amateur scientist Ruth

By This is Devon  |  Posted: September 16, 2010

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TOTNES snail expert Ruth Brooks is a winner.

The 69-year-old grandmother has just been declared the country's Amateur Scientist of the Year after proving that garden snails have a homing instinct.

The writer, who lives in Mansbridge Road, came top in the BBC's nationwide search for scientific research talent for Radio 4's Material World programme.

Ruth's experiment to find out whether hungry snails simply find their way back to the garden veg patch every time they are removed, was one of four finalists chosen for So You Want To Be A Scientist?

She will now get the chance to see her experiment written up and published in a major scientific journal.

Some scientists thought the snail was too simple an organism to have a homing instinct.

However in a series of carefully designed experiments, Ruth showed the opposite may be true.

She found that Helix aspera, the garden snail, has a strong homing instinct over 30 metres.

Ruth gave her advice to fellow gardeners: "I would say that, on the evidence, it would be safe to take your snails away beyond 100 metres or further and put them somewhere nice with some food and you can be almost certain that they won't come back.

She added: "I shall certainly be following that advice."

A keen gardener Ruth, who has lived in Totnes for 16 years, has suffered from voracious snails. She has spent hundreds of pounds trying to combat them without putting down slug pellets, which she fears could harm the soil itself as well as birds and other wildlife.

She said that because of Devon's heavy clay soil the county suffers particularly badly from snail attacks.

Her experiment involves gardeners or families collecting snails, marking them with a particular colour nail polish and then swapping them with snails from a neighbour or friend who does not live too far away.

Ruth was teamed up with Dr Dave Hodgson, a scientist from the University of Exeter's school of bioscience, for the experiment. He said: "I am amazed. I was extremely sceptical. I thought there was no way that these creatures would show a homing instinct."

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    Karl Marlden's Nose, Torbay  |  September 16 2010, 12:05PM

    Get a life comes to mind!