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04/25/2013 12:02 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2013

Why Are Snails and Slugs Repelled by Copper?

This question originally appeared on Quora.
2013-04-25-cbland.jpeg
Answer by Chris Bland, Biomedical Scientist, bird enthusiast

The precise mechanism is not fully known as far as I'm aware, However, the general hypothesis is that copper metal reacts with the slime that covers snails and slugs, resulting in an unpleasant electro-neural signal (similar to an electrical shock) that repels them. Snails and Slugs

 

This hypothesis makes sense, because snail slime is mostly water with dissolved proteins, glycoproteins, and metal ions. Snail slime

 

Snails have a relatively simple nervous system, composed mostly of ganglions that receive inputs from the outside world via external sensory neurons.

http://arnobrosi.tripod.com/snails/evo.html

Since neural action potentials are often regulated by fluctuation in metal ion concentrations across neuronal membranes, it makes sense that copper ions may induce action potentials in sensory neurons on the snail/slug's foot, causing some kind of painful/aversive stimuli.

http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Action_potentials

Again, I could not find published research that fully tests this hypothesis, and an expert on mollusk biology would likely know a lot more, but the data regarding the repulsive effects of copper towards snails and slugs seems very consistent, even though the mechanism may not be fully understood.

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