Snails - The Strange Creatures in Your Garden

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Oct 20, 2014 by British Blog

They are the most common form of mollusc in the world, and although they live in parks, fields and gardens up and down the UK, they are not insects. They are closely related to clams and shellfish, have cousins that live underwater, and are very good at climbing. What are they? They are helix aspersa - better known as the garden snail.

 

Fascinating Snails

Despite being so widespread, the common or garden snail is a fascinating, even exotic, creature. Snails are gastropods, which are a soft form of mollusc, and there are over 60,000 species around today. There are snails living in the oceans, in lakes, ponds and on land.

The average British garden snail is around 8cm long, and may be found living in any part of the UK, although they do like chalky soil most of all - it is good for growing a strong shell.

Garden snails have two pairs of tentacles on their heads: one long and one shorter pair. The longer tentacles have a light-sensitive eyelet, while the shorter tentacles are used for the senses of smell and touch. Snails do not have ears - they are totally deaf. They breathe air, but unlike humans they have only one lung.

 

Healthy Appetites

For gardeners, snails can be a real problem - they chomp their way through the leaves, stems and flowers of many plants and can climb to the uppermost tips of most of them. Like their close relatives, the slugs, snails can cause havoc in a garden, but their diet is not limited to crops. They also eat rotting plant matter, algae and lichens. Snails 'bite' their food using a long tongue, which is covered in thousands of tiny 'teeth'.

Most people are familiar with snail slime - it may look revolting, but for a snail, it is incredibly useful stuff. It helps the snail to move, and in winter, when snails hibernate, they use the slime to seal themselves inside their shells until the warmer weather arrives. Hibernation begins from autumn onwards, when snails tend to congregate in dark, cosy places - upturned plant pots and hollow logs are favourites - and sleep the winter away in a group.

When that warmer weather does arrive, the thoughts of the garden snail, like many an animal, turn to love; or at least, to breeding. Snails are hermaphrodite so in theory they do not actually need a partner to reproduce, although they seem to prefer it! Snails lay around 40-80 eggs at a time, burying the eggs in a shallow nest, and after a month or so a tiny snail emerges from each. The baby snails will not reach adult size until they are two years old. The average snail will lay eggs up to six times a year - so it is hardly surprising that there are so many snails around!

 

Long Lived

Snails live for a surprisingly long time - it is not unusual for them to reach 15 years, although there are plenty of hazards along the way, birds and human feet being just two of them. Therefore, the next time you spot a snail in your garden, you may wonder just how long it has been living there...