I decided to keep Snail World going for a while in the hope that once the inmates had got used to their new surroundings they might feel inclined to get to know one another better, and maybe have some babies.
There were soon signs of romance and I was lucky enough to have the chance of watching snail procreation up close and personal.
Here’s what happens: (If you are having your breakfast you might want to read this later)
Here are Tiger and Rainbow on a stick. (name credit B.L. Smith) They started to pay a lot of attention to each other and then, ignoring the other snails, they went off together along this stick. They began touching one another with their tentacles and actually looking as if they were kissing with their snaily mouths. It was quite sweet.
After watching for a time I observed that when a snail is feeling romantic this pale nodule appears at the side of its head. Tiger and Rainbow were both showing their nodules, which grew bigger and bigger the more they kissed and slid around the stick together.
Snails are hermaphrodites meaning that they have male and female sex organs, they fertilise one another simultaneously and then they both lay eggs. As clever as this is it can be complicated because the sex organs are located at the side of the head where you can see that nodule showing. The snails have to arrange themselves so that those two areas are in contact for the action to take place. I left Tiger and Rainbow working this out while I went away to do pond dipping with children.
When I got back they were doing It!
The happy couple had found a beautiful spot on top of a coffee cup snail house and were busy making babies. They didn’t appear to be enjoying themselves much but maybe it was because I was staring at them. I left them to it.
In the morning Tiger and Rainbow were back to normal, going about their business as if nothing had happened. I had heard that when snails mate they produce a sharp shard made from calcium, which they stab into the body of their mate. Although didn’t see a sign of one of these love darts when I was watching the courtship, I searched around the honeymoon coffee cup just in case.
And there it was! A perfect snail’s love dart.
About 1cm long and with a stalk like half a hedgehog’s prickle. It was gleaming white, gently curved and translucent like a mother of pearl toenail clipping. You can read more about love darts here.
Later that week I was working at a microscope in the Natural History Museum. I was beyond excited about inspecting the Love Dart and trying to take a photograph down the lens but despite being wrapped in cotton wool, in a match box, when I opened it the tiny brittle calcium dagger was broken.
I managed to take some photographs through the microscope. You can see the form quite well, it’s a similar design to some foraminifera I have looked at, and in the second picture you can see the way it reflects light like the inside of a mussel shell.
I’ll have to try to find another love dart to get the pictures I had hoped for.
Next time in Snail News…
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