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The Snail Days of Summer

Our BC summer has been unusually hot–you’ve heard of those ‘dog days’, of course, that seem to crawl by through July and into mid-August. Not humid, though. Just the opposite, in fact. Too dry! Finally, today, it is raining. First time I’ve seen, heard, smelled (glorious, after all the wildfire smoke we’ve been eating) and felt rain since June. Besides ushering in the fresh air, it has brought out oodles of garden snails. But in spite of the lack of natural moisture for weeks, I’ve seen plenty of snails enjoying moist shady patches in the sprinkled garden all summer. So why not call these the ‘snail days’ of summer?

Snail crossing an island in the water bowl

I’ve long admired the colorful swirls on snail shells. They brighten up patches of dark soil, and turn up everywhere: climbing up the sides of the rain barrel, sitting on plant stems, tracing the rims of flower pots, traversing the patio stones, even crawling up the window glass. When I mention how many I see, others frown and suggest they are bad news. But I have to look hard to see any signs of harm in the garden. Sure, the odd leaf has a few holes, and I did find one small marigold struggling to grow while being dined upon by a snail. But I can ignore that for all the good these gastropods might do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Favorite land snail foods are rotting vegetation, algae, fungi, dying plants and dead organic matter…they take on the role of recycling and clean-up crew. Fine with me! In turn, they might be eaten by small mammals, birds, worms, insects and snakes (yes, there’s a small garter snake living in the flower bed). So unless I see a lot of plants disappearing, I’ll let nature balance the equation at a snail’s pace.

Looking for munchies among the moss and leaf litter

 

 

 

 

 

 

My curiosity about these snails led to the question…what is the smallest and the largest snail? In Borneo, scientists discovered a teeny snail (Acmella nana) only visible with a microscope. On the other end of the scale is the African giant snail (Achatina achatina) with a shell around 27 cm long.
The largest snail I’ve seen isn’t a land snail. It’s the sea or marine snail called the Moon snail (Euspira lewisii).

 

 

 

 

 

I first saw this one on west coast beaches, and again this June in the Bonne Bay Marine Station Public Aquarium in Norris Point, NL. Enterprising hermit crabs use the empty shells as a new home, to replace one they’ve outgrown.

So did someone say snails weren’t useful?