The garden snails ancestors are one of the earliest known types of animals in the world. There is fossil evidence that they lived nearly 500 million years ago. All land snails are gastropod mollusks, meaning that they belong to the same group as octopuses – they evolved from the sea. They live for 2 – 3 years, travel at speeds up to 0.047 km/hour and can be found almost everywhere in the world, living in a diverse range of habitats.
Although snails have eyes, they are blind. They are also totally deaf and rely on their sense of smell to find food. The average garden snail has over 14,000 teeth, which are arranged in rows on their tongue. They eat plants, fruit, vegetables, algae, mushrooms, fungi and sand and soil when seeking calcium to harden their shells.
Garden snails hibernate during the winter and live on stored fat built up during the summer months. They are nocturnal and don’t like sunlight because it can dry out their bodies. 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’ secrete a thick slime in order to move around. Because of this slime, they can move over upside down surfaces or crawl across the edge of a razorblade and not injure themselves. This slime, called “mucin” is used in many beauty products such as anti-aging creams, facemasks, moisturisers & eye masks. Snail spas are quite popular in Thailand where living snails are put on the client’s face and left to slither around.
Garden snails are hermaphrodites meaning that it possesses both male and female reproductive organs and these are located on the sides of their heads. Although it is able to self-fertilise most snails mate with another snail. Reproduction takes place in early summer and begins with pairing and courtship. After a period in which the pair caress each other with their tentacles, each snail pierces the skin of its partner with a spiny projection called a ‘love dart’. This ‘love dart’ is believed to be the inspiration for the ‘cupid love arrow’ myth. The function of this love dart is unclear, but it is thought that the mucus may act to improve the survival of sperm. Love darts are only made in sexually mature animals. Mating (lasting 4 – 12 hours) then takes place; each snail inserts its penis into its partner at the same time. The snails separate, and the sperm is stored internally until the eggs are ripe. After the eggs have been fertilised, the snails dig a pit in the soil in which to lay the eggs (usually around 85). After 15 days, the eggs hatch. The hatchlings have translucent and delicate shells.
Snails are a gourmet dish called escargot that is popular in France, Spain, Portugal and in many other countries around the world. Snails are low-fat, protein-rich and a good source of a variety of essential vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, omega 3, selenium, vitamin E and phosphorus. When cooked, snails are prepared with a garlic and parsley butter sauce, and are served in their shells as a starter. They are very expensive because they are considered a delicacy.