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Celebration of Snails

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This article title is absolutely on point. About a year ago, I started a post but just filled in the headline. Naturally, I completely forgot about it until Bente asked me about the draft. What I didn’t tell her was that by then I had no idea what the original intention had been, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t literally about snails. It’s time now to give this article a go, because after a little research I don’t see what is NOT to be celebrated about snails.

So, a few sciency facts about these little creatures:

  • Basically, any mollusk that can fully retract into its shell -be it in water or on land- can be considered a snail. No house means you are not a proper snail but a slug, and if you have a small house you get the worst possible motto: semi-slug.
  • Snails are pretty well adapted to very different environments. There are ditch snails, desert snails, even abyssal depths of the sea snails (and that’s a motto I would rather have). Although we are used to land ones, the vast majority of snail species are marine – and this includes both sea and fresh water.
  • If you thought snails broke havoc in gardens only, you are wrong. Most land snails are herbivorous, but many marine species are omnivorous AND predatory carnivorous (because just carnivorous was not bad-ass enough).
  • There is a species of snails that can grow to almost 40 centimeters and weight up to about a kilo: the giant African snail. But if an immense snail doesn’t creep you a little and make you giggle at the same time, behold the sea snail Syrinx aruanus. This guy can get as big as 90 centimeters and weight none other than 18 kilos.
  • Snails are feared worldwide for their plant-destructive tendencies, but some are actually used as pesticides. Not as in crush-their-shells-and-sprinkle-the-ground-with-them-pesticide, though. A type called Decollate snail actually captures and eats garden snails (and I swear Wikipedia emphasizes the fact that it captures them).
  • Snails also have a history of ending up in French people’s plates – see Escargot à la Bourguignonne. To be fair, on any person’s table. Snails are prepared in a wide variety of ways, and are a popular food in agricultural communities because how easily they grow. Snails have actually been used against famine, they are an excellent source of protein.
  • Snails (this time indeed crushed) are used in producing cosmetics. But so again, what isn’t?
  • Snails have adopted a lot of different cultural symbolisms through time, but their identification with laziness seems to overcome all frontiers. They are also used in divination, the Greeks wrote quite a lot about them, and the Aztec god Tecciztecatl (say it three times and you become a slug) was depicted as having a snail shell on his back. Maybe he thought it was cool.
  • There are also medieval battles between knights and snails depicted in manuscripts, and nobody seems to know why. Check out this related article.
  • It is believed that Cupid’s arrows are actually inspired by the snail’s love dart behavior. And if you clicked on that link I will have to assume your guess was indeed correct.

Now, this list doesn’t sound very celebratory. I know the kind of facts Bente likes. The ones that leave you WTFing with your head tilted to the side, peppered with witty remarks. So in honor of my friend, I will try my best to capture the most curious facts about snails in a set of sentences:

  • Snails live a decent average of 5 years, but some species survive up to 25.
  • Garden snails move at 1,3 cm per second. They are not very fast, but they are steady.
  • Snails are hermaphrodites, but they need another intersex snail to make baby-snails (pushing the joke to its maximum limits, if I were a snail, I would call my baby snail a semi-slug too, which would be kind of correct).
  • Snails are deaf.
  • For a while, snail shells were used as currency in New Guinea.
  • Snails are nocturnal. If a snail gets too much sunlight, it will stop eating and retract to its shell. This sounds awfully familiar.
  • Because of the slime they produce, if you put a snail on the edge of a razor it won’t get hurt. Unless you push.
  • Snails often don’t follow a path, but travel in circles.
  • Snails hibernate during the winter and live on storage fat.
  • Garden snails have up to 14,175 teeth, and they are all located on their tongues.  
  • Snails can lift up to 10 times their body weight.
  • Some cone snails can kill a human being with its poison, which is more powerful than morphine.

Would you say I snailed this “let’s celebrate snails” impro-post?

All photos found in Flickr Commons. All photos are CC, links in each image.

yisela

UX Designer and Anthropologist, hardcore gamer, obsessive reader and improvised artificer of crafts. I cheated on population genetics with graphic design and since that the three of us have been living happily ever after. I enjoy writing little pieces on practically anything that catches my eye, but I lean towards those occasions when art overlaps with science.

3 comments on “Celebration of Snails
  1. benteh on said:

    I am chuffed that I got an article donated to myself :) – and that it is full of weird facts and pretty pictures. Exactly my cup of tea!

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