Scientists have finally discovered the biological use of the love dart, revealing its role in the reproductive process of a snail.
During copulation, mating snails stab one another with their darts – behaviour that was a mystery until this research was conducted.
“We knew there must be a biological reason for it – why would a snail be trying to hurt the snail it’s mating with?” Dr Scott Cummins from the University of Sunshine Coast said. “But we had never known precisely what role it played in the reproductive process.
He explains that his research has revealed that the love dart is in fact used to inject a pheromone into the other snail’s body to increase a snail’s ability to sire offspring.
The findings indicate that the sharp dart is the snails’ version of the competitive sexual behaviours seen throughout the animal world. Instead of making themselves bigger, stronger or more aggressive, they use their love darts in order to increase the likelihood of passing on their genetic material.
Dr Cummins said the researchers have been studying the snails’ mating behaviour in the hope of uncovering a way to inhibit their reproduction.
Snails with the love dart include invasive species that contaminate crops and damage farm machinery, causing widespread issues for the Australian agricultural industry.
“If we understand the genes then we understand how an animal functions and reproduces,” he said. “If we can inhibit the performance of the love dart pheromone, maybe we can help to control pest species, or prevent other species from becoming pests,” concludes Dr Cummins.
Read more here: The University of Sunshine Coast.