Don Picken of Wellington asks :-

Is there any research going on concerning farming snails in New Zealand?

Fabrice Brescia, a zoologist in New Caledonia who studyied the conservation of snails for a PhD at Massey University, responded.

I haven't heard of a scientist in New Zealand studying edible snails and their farming called heliciculture.

Several species of snails can be farmed using several techniques. Free-range snail farming, based on the Italian method of breeding snails utilizing the biological cycle of raising and growing snails in open pastures of fresh vegetables – in a natural environment that allows the snails to grow as nature intended- is often used. There is such an “organic” farmer of "free range" snails in Hawkes Bay.

Snails, terrestrial Molluscs, are hermaphrodites but they have to mate before laying eggs some days later. One snail can lay eggs several times (five) a year, with between 80 and 140 eggs laid each time. The incubation period varies between 15 to 30 days according to climatic conditions.

The garden snail Cantareus aspersa (formally Helix aspersa), sometimes known as “Petit-Gris,” is about 10g and is the species of edible snails usually farmed worldwide. Petit-Gris reach their adulthood, and can be harvested for eating 14 to 18 weeks after hatching. Adults are characterized by a shell aperture with a thick lip.

Sometimes, more intensive techniques are used. Reproduction and nursery takes place indoors, in climatized areas, and fattened outdoors, in pens. Snails are fed with a dry meal, rather than a green fodder. It’s more efficacious, hygienic and less expensive to produce.

Apart from these commercial farming considerations, some scientists try also to farm endangered snails for the conservation of rare species. For example, in New Zealand and in New Caledonia, we farmed Flax Snail species of the genus Placostylus. Species of these snails are often very threatened by loss of habitat, predation by introduced rodents, or over-collection in the forests of New Caledonia because they are favoured as food. Conservation trials are based on amplification of threatened Placostylus populations in captivity, with the idea to release these captive snails for re-introduction (to create a new snail population in the areas where they are extinct), supplementation (to help very small snail populations by adding new specimens) or translocation (to create a new snail population in an other place for example in a predator free area).