While I was tidying up in the front garden yesterday I came across this pretty snail. It is about ¾" (2 cms) across and was resting on a limestone rock before I so rudely disturbed it.
I've always rather liked snails – to look at, that is. I like the way they can tuck themselves into their shells to ride out many dangers though not the thrush or blackbird's assault. I like the way they emerge cautiously, one horn at a time, to peer around myopically, (I don't know if they really are short-sighted) and then proceed smoothly on their endless journeys. I like the way I can pick them up between thumb and forefinger. I like the way they come out to relish the rain-drenched ground and foliage which seem to assist their slippery advance. They fascinate me.
This particular specimen is the White-lipped snail (Cepaea hortensis). There are great variations in the colour and patterning of these snails – indeed some are completely yellow with no banding at all. They are hermaphrodite, having both male and female reproductive organs but mate to exchange sperm. When the eggs are ready to hatch, one month after they have been laid, tiny snails emerge complete with shells. Unlike snakes, which slough off their skins to accommodate their growth, snails retain their shells adding calcium carbonate to the edge of the shell. When they are fully grown they begin reproducing.
I found this rather haunting Australian Aborigine poem in a book of children's poetry:
Sound of snails – crying,
Sound drifting through the brush, sound of crying.
Slime of snails, dragging themselves
Along the low-lying plain, crying;
Snails with their slime, crying.
Sound drifting through the bush: dragging themselves along, crying,
Snails, their sound blowing overhead from among the bushes.
It's an extraordinary thought that these indigenous Australian people might imagine the pain and sorrow of such a lowly creature. What was their relationship with snails? They lived off the land but I have found no reference to them eating snails though surely they must have done since anything that wasn't poisonous was a source of sustenance.
When I looked later I could find no trace of the snail we had photographed but this morning I saw a much smaller one, marked in exactly the same way – a perfect miniature replica.