Why snails aren’t depressed, and a glimpse into the adventures of Dr. Fong’s lab.

When people first hear about our research project, we, Lizzie Donovan and Taylor Bury, have noticed that there’s a pretty common course of conversation.


Lizzie and Taylor say hello from Lewes, DE!

Them: So what kind of research are you doing?

Us: We’ve been dosing snails in antidepressants to see effects on their behavior.

Them: Huh…but wait. Are snails depressed? I guess they do move a little slow.

Us: (laughing at the bad joke) It’s a bit more complicated, but no. Snails aren’t depressed.


Some of our labeled mud snails getting ready to be dosed.

At least as far as we know. In our waterways, there are things called Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API’s for short). These are chemicals or drugs that come from humans when we use the shower or flush the toilet, and end up going through directly into creeks, streams, rivers, and oceans.

Places like Marsh Creek are a good example.

Places like Marsh Creek are a good example.

They’re probably not a good thing for the creatures that live there.

Some of the most common API’s are antidepressants, so that seemed like a reasonable place to start as far as testing drugs and the different concentrations that go through these areas. Meanwhile, the snails we’re using (both marine and freshwater), take up the drugs directly through their skin, and have a couple behaviors to study. Dr. Fong has published a few studies in this area, which you can find here, here, and here. In particular we’ve been looking at righting behavior- basically flipping a snail over and seeing how long it takes to put itself right side-up again.

Which, as you can imagine, has brought us to a bunch of different places:

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Like our indoor lab, for example.

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But we can bring a little bit of lab outdoors as well.

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In a bigger context these API’s could also be affecting snail predators and prey, as well as other organisms living in these areas. Snails may seem tiny, but their impact on an ecosystem is surprisingly huge. Without their presence, many of the places would drastically change.

The Team

Taylor Bury: Taylor has never met a donut that she didn’t like. When not in lab, the rising senior Biology major and Chemistry minor can often be found roaming the battlefields of Gettysburg, playing guitar, or feeding her coffee addiction at The Ragged Edge. Currently she’s also applying to dental schools, because four years of undergrad wasn’t enough.

Lizzie Donovan: Did not want to write this section but couldn’t leave it blank. In addition to binge-watching Netflix and drinking copious amounts of tea, this avid petter of dogs and wildlife enthusiast loves being outdoors and doing fieldwork, hence her major in Environmental Studies and minor in Biology. Despite slothful indulgences and a tendency to make her lab partner late to work, after college and a couple of years abroad, she plans on getting a higher degree in an ecology-related field.

Dr. Peter Fong: Dr. Fong is boss man. When he’s not taking his dog Messi for a walk, you can find him fishing, collecting snails in one of the many creeks surrounding the Gettysburg area, and talking to ghost hunters by the Covered Bridge.


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