January 2018 - Garden Snails

Hibernating Snails Caistor November 2017- thanks to Jenny Press

Hibernating Snails Caistor November 2017 - thanks to Jenny Press

Jenny Press was walking at Caistor, last November when she came across a large snail hibernaculum, in the crevices of an old oak tree. Quite spectacular!

There are several snail species found in gardens. The common Garden Snail, the biggest and most hated by gardeners, is a voracious feeder of garden plants and vegetables. They are most active in warm, damp conditions, between the months of March and October, feeding at night, resting during the day in sheltered places.  One way to get rid of them, is to go round the garden at night with a torch, collecting them as they munch on soft leaved plants. Don't throw them over a wall or hedge - they will come back! Take them down to a woodland area and release them. Thrushes love to eat them!  Using chemicals is not a good way to get rid of snails as other wildlife will suffer long term.

Garden Snails are also found in woodland, parks and roadsides. They feed on vegetation, fungi and rotting plant debris and can often be found grazing up trees, feeding on algae and lichens growing on the bark. They prefer areas with chalky soil which helps shell growth. In periods of drought, or during winter, they retreat into their shells, sealing the entrance with mucus, which hardens into a cap (epiphragm), emerging when favourable conditions return. As winter approaches they congregate together in sheltered areas to hibernate.

Garden Snails have grey-coloured moist bodies, light brown shells with dark brown markings. When moving, their heads have two long tentacles, which have an eye at each tip. Below the eye stalks are two shorter tentacles which help the snails to feel where they are going. Their mouths, full of small rasping teeth, are situated between these two lower tentacles. They move by means of a muscular 'foot' which is helped by the release of mucus which reduces friction over rough surfaces. They have a good sense of smell, but not such good vision.

Garden Snails are hermaphrodite, each containing both male and female sex organs. They reproduce by exchanging sperm with a partner, although they can self-fertilise if a partner cannot be found. Mating can take several hours, during which time the snails exchange sperm but also shoot 'love darts' into each others' bodies. It is thought that these love darts contain a hormone-like substance which assists the survival of sperm. After mating, both snails part, to lay up to 100 eggs each, in a shallow damp hole in the ground. Each egg hatches into a baby snail after about 4 weeks. The shell will grow as the snail's body grows, and it will take about 2 years to reach adult size.



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