Traditionally we see snails as being a common garden pest, but there is so much more to our slimey, shelled friends than the average gardener would perhaps like to see.
Ancestors of snails go way back, with the earliest relative known to have been found 500 million years ago. That predates dinosaurs by a few hundred million years!
Snails can either be water or land based – aquatic or terrestrial.
A little known fact is that they also belong to the same family as octopuses. This is because they are mollusk, which basically means that they don’t have an internal skeleton.
Although they seem to do nothing but munch on our plants, they don’t actually need much food to survive, and have done a pretty good job at evolving to suit the conditions that they are faced with – which is why the species has survived on our planet for so long.
The main difference between slugs and snails is their shell. The spiral shell protects the snail, and is made from calcium carbonate. Snails have an internal lung, which allows them to breathe air and extract oxygen, in a similar way to what we do. Aquatic snails are different, however.
Gastropods are everywhere – all over the world, and there are many of them. In fact, they come second in their numbers behind insects. That is why you will find so many of them in your garden, but also in parks, under stones, climbing plants – you occasionally may even find a snail stuck to the outside of your second floor window and wonder and marvel at how on earth, and why on earth, you have found a snail there.
There are many different snail sizes, ranging from just a couple of inches, to up to over 10 inches. Imagine finding a 10 inch snail in your garden – now then you would be worried.
I’m sure you are wondering how snails move? They don’t have legs, so how do they manage to get into all those hard to reach places? Generally this is by using what is known as their muscular foot. You may have see the wave movements that their lower body forms – well this generally allows the snail to be pulled along. This is why they need all that slime though – imagine the friction they would experience on their lower bodies from dragging it along the pavement all day? This mucus allows them to easily move around.
Snails can live in the wild anywhere between 3 and 7 years, but their lives are generally cut short due to the perils they face on a day to day basis – such as birds diving at them, lawnmowers and hedge cutters slicing through them, being trodden on under foot, and other such gruesome occurrences. They can actually live much longer when they are in captivity – up to around 12 years in fact.
The other thing about snails is that they taste good – or at least when they are covered in garlic. In the UK, we tend to recoil in horror at the thought of eating snails, but in France and many other countries, they are considered a delicacy. Which is good news if we ever run out of food, as there are loads of them.
So, after learning all this about snails, do you still want to extract them from your gorgeous garden as soon as possible?
Yes, of course you do!