Slimy Snail is a much maligned creature whose only fault is that it is slimy and eats a lot. But it is clever enough to be able to grow extra eye stalks, has only one foot and yet still manage to be able to get around with its house on its back, and has been used to make cough syrup and skin healing products for centuries.
All slugs and snails produce mucus — lots and lots of it. It helps them move. It insulates their body and keeps away dirt and germs. It holds moisture so they don’t desiccate (dry out). Mucus can be thin for easy gliding across a smooth surface or thick to protect them from rough surfaces. You may have noticed the shiny, mucus trail left by slugs and snails on sidewalks and flowerpots.
Did you know snails have over 14,000 teeth on their tongue, which is rough like a cat’s, and they can locate food a few metres away due to their extraordinary sense of smell? The larger set of tentacles is their eyes, although they are almost blind and the smaller set is their olfactory organs.
Snails and are one of the slowest creatures on earth, moving along at 1.3cm a second. Mostly active at night or during the day if it rains, many species hibernate in winter or during severe droughts, by sealing their entrance with dried mucus called an epiphragm and then gluing themselves to something in a shady place.
The largest land snail recorded was a giant African snail measuring 12 inches long and weighing nearly two pounds. They only live for around five years although some species can live up to 25 years. (Snails in France have a much shorter life span)
Slugs and snails are hermaphrodites so they have both male and female reproductive organs, but they still need another snail (or slug) in order to fertilise their eggs. Mating occurs at the end of spring into early summer and 80-100 eggs are laid in the soil.
Transparent baby snails hatch within two to four weeks and it takes up to three months for them to fully develop their adult colours. They are usually a mirror image of their parents and reach adult size and sexual maturity in two or three years.
Most gardeners try to exterminate snails using chemicals, however, a recent study has indicated that if you remove a slimy snail 20 metres away, they will not return and it is therefore more ecologically friendly to collect and take them to some waste land. Making a beer trap is another environmentally friendly way of getting rid of snails and more fun for the snails as well.
Slugs have a long, muscular, slimy body. They lack an obvious shell, but, otherwise, there’s basically no difference between slugs and snails. The most common garden slugs are black or dark-brown and 1/2 to 2 inches long. In temperate climates, some slugs hibernate underground in winter. Slugs are more prone to desiccation than snails with shells because they lack that protective covering.
That’s all very interesting but why should I like them?
Snails are scavengers, they’re not usually interested in your healthy plants and veggies. They are more interested in plants that are sick or dying. So if you find snails crawling all over your lettuce it’s a sign that the environment that you are growing your lettuces in is not ideal. It is a snail’s job to find the plants that need to be decomposed and return them back to the soil.
Did you know that slug and snail slime absorbs water? Try washing it off your hands and see what happens. Anything that absorbs water has to be a good thing to have in our soil right?
Slimy snails help to disperse seed and spores, break down organic matter and keep down the population of other small pests. Snail eggs are food for many other soil creatures and slimy snails themselves are eaten by many other animals including man.
The ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates prescribed a mixture of crushed snails and sour milk for the treatment of skin ailments. So the use of snail slime as a skin repairer has been known for centuries.
But did you know that it was also used as a cough syrup and to treat gastrointestinal ulcers in the middle ages?
More recently Chilean farmers noticed that their skin became softer and scars appeared to vanish after handling snails for the fresh food market. On further investigation it was found that snail mucous contains collagen, glycolic acid and antibiotics and that it can regenerate skin cells and heal cuts.
While snail slime creams have been popular in Korea, Greece, and Africa for years, cosmetics companies are now starting to infiltrate the American market. With up to 77% snail mucin extract, that’s the next best thing to actually rubbing the snail directly on your face. Primarily marketed as an acne solution, the snail’s mucus is used as a scar and burn healing product, it also reduces the appearance of stretchmarks. A salon in Tokyo uses live snails for facial treatments.
For those of you concerned about the animal rights implications, don’t be alarmed, the snails are unharmed in the process. In fact the snails need to be happy to produce the most effective slime, when in distress their slime is frothy and less effective.
Here’s a few interesting snail facts;
• Snails can regenerate eye stalks
• Occasionally a slimy snail grows up with an extra eye stalk
• In a population of snails, the shell of most specimens coils one way or the other. Coiling to the right is called dextral and to the left is called sinistral. It seems that sinistral snails are not able to mate with dextral snails. So over time, as one way of coiling becomes a minority, that coil bias disappears, leaving and reinforcing the remaining coil bias.
• To remove snail slime from your hands, pour on white vinegar, then rinse them in water.