Down the sides of curb stones, along the cracks of paving stones, tucked between bricks and under pebbles there are little creatures all around us, going about their lives.
Creepy crawlies, mini beasts; ants, beetles, mites and molluscs are all there right beside us. It amazes me every time I pause and look closely, just how many tiny creatures are busying about without anyone noticing.
Each individual little animal is a champion of its own type with books written about it, and knowledgeable experts, and drawers of specimens in a museum. Woodlice are a particular favourite of mine, did you know there are 40 different species in the UK and they are not insects but crustaceans as they have a hard exoskeleton like a crab.
One day I was having my cup of tea on the garden step and this snail came up to me, quite fast he was, sliding along. And he sort of smelt me, with his tentacles, and then went on his way. The next day it happened again and I wondered if it was the same snail or a different one and how did it slide making that silver trail?
I drew the snail and looking at it properly I saw how beautiful it was, it kept exploring the table and investigating all the things around it, pointing its eye stalks this way and that. It was surprisingly charming.
I thought I’d like to look at snails a bit more so I collected my artist’s model and a few of his friends and relations, and brought them back to a hastily constructed Snail World in the studio.
The first thing I noticed by drawing snails was that their shells are tricky. Unlike most animals snails are asymmetrical. Their shells are dexteral, meaning coiling to the right, and with the apex of the spiral on one side of the snail. They have a sideways front and back, as it were. So if a snail is going by from left to right it looks nicely spiralled.
But a snail going from right to left just has the plain back of the shell on view.
If you ever see a garden snail with a left handed shell – a sinistral spiral – then you are very lucky and you can take a photograph of it and send it in to the Natural History Museum. They are incredibly rare.
On supplying Snail World with a delicious salad bar I discovered that my little friends all had different tastes and preferred a variety of fruit and veg. Everyone loved porridge in a milk bottle top. A snail has quite a big mouth and inside there is a rasping tongue, common to all molluscs, called a radula. They can’t bite but they rub this sandpaper-like tongue over their food to consume it with remarkable efficiency, and it’s really noisy!
I enjoyed hearing the sound of a snail cleaning out the inside of an avocado skin, you can hear it too if you just find a snail and give it a snack.
Snails have a basic, and short, digestive system. It was a delight to observe that if one ate for instance, some carrot, then avocado, then beetroot; out would come a stripy rainbow snail poo of orange, green and pink.
Snails build their shells from calcium, like our bones. If they are injured they can repair their shell by self medicating, in the wild they will lick chalk or even one another’s shells. I think most animals amazingly do this, they know what is good for them. I had one snail whose shell was really quite crushed- it was not very nice- you could almost see in.
I supplied a bit of cuttlebone and the others weren’t that interested but the snail with the broken shell LOVED it. It looked actually excited and enjoyed me feeding it with tweezers.
I think this has got a bit long now. Turns out there is a lot to say about snails.
If you would like to find out about snail courtship and have a look down the microscope to find out what this…
is, then sign up to this blog and it will come directly to your inbox. (I will also write other things not about snails) It would be a shame to miss out and I promise not to bombard you with hundreds of posts.
It’s taken about two weeks to write this one.
Goodbye from Snail World for now.