Sunday, 19 August 2007


As I've complained about these little garden devils so much this year I thought I may as well do a post about them. They do make good photographic subjects as they don't move very quickly.

Snails belong to a group of organisms known as Gastropods, which means 'stomach foot'.Common snails have pale grey moist skin. Because of their moist skin, common snails are most active in damp weather and at night.

At the front end are four tentacles, the shorter two are for feeling and the longer pair are eye stalks. The shell of these snails is light brown with darker brown bands following the spiral of the shell. The shell colouration varies in its intensity from pale yellow to almost black.

They are herbivores and feed on decaying vegetation, algae, fungi, lichens and garden plants. Common snails have a symbiotic bacteria in their crop that enables them to digest cellulose - they have been known to feed on damp paper and cardboard.

When conditions become too dry, the snail will retreat into its shell and seal the entrance with a parchment-like barrier known as an epiphragm. Snails can often be found in this state under rocks in gardens or on a wall in a sheltered corner. When sealed away like this the snail goes into a state of suspended animation and can survive for several months without water.
Common snails feed by scraping a ribbon-like tongue covered in horny teeth called a radula, over their food. This allows them to scrape algae and lichen from the surface of rocks and walls. You can sometimes see the trails they leave behind as they eat their way through the algae on a damp wall.

Common snails, like all land snails, are hermaphrodites. Despite this they still need to find another snail to mate with. When two snails meet during the breeding season (late spring or early summer), mating is initiated by one snail piercing the skin of the other snail with a calcified 'love dart'. The exact purpose of the 'love dart' is not fully understood but it seems to stimulate the other snail into exchanging small packets of sperm. After mating is complete the snails will produce eggs internally, which are fertilised by the sperm that has been exchanged. Eggs are then usually laid in clusters (each containing up to 100 white eggs) into the soil or under rocks. If the conditions remain suitable for the eggs, snails will begin to hatch after about 14 days. Newly hatched snails have a small fragile shell and it takes two years for them to reach maturity.

The gypsies believe that the "Earth-fairies" are the foes of every kind of worm and creeping insect with the exception of the snail, which they therefore call the earthy-horse. English gypsies, and the English peasantry, as well as gypsies, call snails "cattle", because they have horns. A girl can win love from a man by inducing him to carry a snail shell which she has had for some time about her person. To present a snail shell is to make a very direct but not very delicate declaration of love to any one. When I think of the number of snail shells in my garden I guess my garden loves me!


CG said...

I love snails and it was a treat to read all about them :)

dot said...

Interesting post. I'm not crazy aout snails or other crawly things expecially those creepy looking slugs!

Ali said...

I was amazed by most of those facts, I could have sworn my veggies were perfectly healthy and not decaying until AFTER the snails ate the things!!!!

No Rain said...

An informative post. We do not have snails here--or at least I've never seen any in my garden. I think they are just too slimy for me, so I'm glad I don't have any. I just can't imagine folks eating snails!

Katya said...

Oh goodness, Ruth! I learned so much! I don't mind snails so much, but those slugs are *another* story! (we get these huge grayish=colored ones with black spots...YUCK!)
Every now and then, we find a pretty snail shell in the woods. I always wonder where the snail went? Perhaps it is hiding inside!
Thank you for a wonderfully informative post!

Mark said...

Hi Ruth,
Great post , i think the problem could be solved my Government legislating against 'Love Darts'. I dont see why this could not be done, just think of the number of jobs this would create as councils would have to employ anti love dart partols. Judging by the number of snails it could take some time...
They do however make nice interesting art, if you can find the right ones.

Cheers Mark

RUTH said...

CG; I do admire snails just wish they'd keep away from my plants...why can't they eat WEEDS?
Dot; since I had a digital camera I'm far more loving towards bugs and beasties than I used to be.
Ali; I know what you mean...maybe I should put a notice by my lettuces saying "Snails keep off, these are HEALTHY!"
No rain; I must admit I've never eaten snails either, would love to try them thoughKatya; I have heard that the huge slugs are the best for your garden as they eat the small ones...don't know if it's true though
Mark; LOL...and do agree some are really pretty like the banded ones you introduced to me on your blog

Chris said...

Hello Ruth :-), well it seems you have as many snails as us and I too wish they would eat weeds! The number of plants we have lost over the years is massive and now we only buy plants for the garden that we hope the slugs and snails won't eat. The allotment of course is a different thing as they seem to eat everything! I can't imagine a garden with no snails but we do have far too many of them. Very interesting post, I cant say I will ever find them beautiful but I guess in small numbers they are helpful :-) In the evening, especially while it has been so damp, they climb our walls and windows and we have found them in our bird feeders!

gledwood said...

the top picture i cannot work out what it is meant to be... snails on a dragonfly?? or something??

i knew people doing biology at university they said they did an entire term of having to feed giant snails with micro cut up leaves via tweezers he said it was the most boring time of his life

sounded quite intriguing to me, tho; i have to say!

Jeanette said...

Hi Ruth, Thanks for your lovely words on the passing of my brother,
Oh I was just going back on your posts Thank you for the award I will post it soon. Snails Yukkk

Akelamalu said...

That was intersting Ruth. I don't particularly like snails apart from their shells which can be really colourful. I've never eaten them, have you???

Mauigirl said...

What a fascinating post - I never knew anything much about snails until now! I actually think they're pretty; found some at Cape Cod when I was little and "adopted" them for the week we were there - took them with us in the car! I'm sure both they and my parents really "appreciated" it.

We have no snails in our garden here...but we have their cousins the shell-less slugs. Yuck. There is a big difference when they have a shell!

As for your garden loving you - how could it not? You give it so much wonderful care!

RUTH said...

Chris; it is surprising how high they can climb, the photo of the wall is at the top of our two storey house
Gleds; the top photo is of snails on our dragonfly solar light. I've seen some of those giant land snails that people keep as pets...they're HUGE!
Jeanette; a sad time for you I know, thanks for ropping by. Glad you're accepting the award :o)
Akela; no I've never eaten them. Funny because I love whelks which look just like snails. Mind you plenty of garlic over anything and I'd eat it!
Mauigirl; must admit I collected many strange "pets" when I was a child. To this day I still hanker after an ant farm! and have a wormery top of my wish list.

Adam said...

Thanks for dropping by my blog.
Wow! That's a lot of information about snails. I was having a snail + slug infestation problem but the sunny weather seems to have helped. Not sure whether they will come back now that's started to rain again.

Genie said...

Ruth, this was a fascinating post. The snails might be destructive, but they are really interesting to examine.

Beth said...

Very interesting! The shell is pretty. But if it were a sign of a pest in my garden, I guess I wouldn't like it so much. Happy GTS!

B.T.Bear (esq.) said...

Dilly EETS them. AN the shell. She sez they're like Choklit Limes: crunchy on the owtside an soft in the middol.


john.g. said...

My resident Song Thrush loves them!

farmingfriends said...

Hi Ruth, What a great post - very informative with lots of great photos too.
Sara from farmingfriends

Jo said...

One of my earliest memories is of my mum telling me a poem about snails, which of course, I have passed on to my children:-

All along the garden wall,
Silvery and white,
There's a line where a snail took a walk last night.
He came from the rockery,
For something to eat,
And those must be his footsteps, if snails have feet.
Have you ever seen a snail taking a walk,
With his house on his back, and eyes on stalks?


RUTH said...

Adam; I have a horrible feeling your snils will be back as soon as the rain starts again...hope I'm wrong!
Genie and Beth; glad you enjoyed the post.
BTBear; you must get Dilly to come and visit me...plenty of chocolate lime substitutes here :o)
John G;Thrush numbers seem to be dwindling...quite worrying... :o(
Sara; thanks...enjoyed your GTS post too

RUTH said...

jo; love that poem...thanks :o)

MrBrownThumb said...


Thanks for the neat information. I haven't seen a snails that big in my garden yet but I've been waiting for one so I could photograph it.

Leonie said...

When you look at them closely, snails are actually very pretty and perfectly formed creatures, well I think so anyway. Lovely photos. :-)

UKBob said...

You are right about snails been good to photograph, even I can keep up with them long enough to get a snap. Bob.

Shaz said...

Grrrr @ the little critters that munch through my garden. They must love us as they come to our potted garden in the thousands, just a shame I don't feel the same about them! Excellent post though Ruth x x

Annie said...

Aren't they just the most fascinating creatures! So different from humans.

Gina said...

Wow, what beautiful pictures! And information : )

RUTH said...

MrBrownThumb; I can send you some if you like...LOL
Leonie and Annie; there is something endearing about them and they are fascinating to watch
UKBob; they're certainly easier to snap than dragonflies and butterflies!
Shaz; you're right about the "thousands"...I think this wet weather make bring even more out of hiding

Libbys Blog said...

I loved this post! Well done Ruth! The last paragraph made me chuckle!




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