The Malacology Centre of the All-India Coordinated Project in Taxonomy at the Purnaprajna College here has been doing important research on land snails in the Western Ghats since 2000.
This project for taxonomic work in plants and animals comes under the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. It is aimed at documenting land snail diversity, their distribution, threats to their existence and their economic and biological value.
Of late, another centre, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), has been working on a similar area, although the Malacology Centre is totally independent.
According to the coordinator of the centre N.A. Madhyastha, the study of snails in the Western Ghats gained importance after the British published the “Fauna of British India” (1900-1915) in three volumes.
Some snails have economic value and their potential has not been fully assessed, while some others carried parasitic worms (vectors). For instance, “Achatina fulica”, otherwise known as the African giant snail, carried rat-lung worm, which causes Eosinophilic meningitis in humans.
The African giant snail was introduced in India by Benson in 1847. This snail has become a pest all over south India. The best way to deal with this pest is to handpick them, destroy them with salt, and use it as manure.
There are certain species of snails, which are found in the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka. Snails also play an important ecological role in the forests. They feed on litters, fungi, dead plants and animals and help in their decomposition thereby enriching the soil. They are therefore often called as soil engineers. “Not much study has been done on ecological aspects of land snails,” Dr. Madhyastha said.
Dr. Madhyastha has surveyed freshwater snails of Western Ghats as part of a project, under eminent scientist Madhav Gadgil from 1995 to 2000.
According to him, one of the rarest snails found in the spray zone of waterfalls in Western Ghats is called ‘Cremnoconchus.