Have you ever wondered what people are doing when you see them searching in the rough grass carrying a plastic bag? They can usually be seen after a period of rain and are often looking for snails. Snails are popular with the Spanish and many Europeans and bags of them can be found in the supermarkets and on the local markets.
You have to be lucky to actually catch a snail in motion. When you do, they are typically s-l-o-w. In fact, you’d almost think they were asleep, which is what they do for most of the day. Because snails, as members of the mollusk family, need moisture to keep their
bodies going the heat of the sun is very drying, so they usually don’t come out until night time. When they do, they extend their ‘heads’, which generally have a pair of tentacles on them and go looking for vegetation to eat. The snail is self-sufficient in several ways. It is a hermaphrodite, which means it has male as well as female genes, so there is no need to seek a mate to fertilize the 30 or so eggs they usually lay under a stone. It also has a ready-made retreat, for when the weather turns cold. Snails burrow into ground cover and draw their bodies into the shell, sealing the entrance with a layer of slime that hardens, leaving a small space for air. This same behavior is carried out by species that live in desert areas when there is a shortage of water. They will withdraw into their shells and hibernate or sleep, for as much as 2-3 years, until conditions improve.
The head of most snails has two tentacles. These protuberances are hollow. The snail’s eyes are perched at the end of the tentacles, but when threatened, they can draw their eyes down through the hollow stalks. As a mollusk, the snail has a head, a ‘foot’ and a middle
region. The “foot” is actually the muscular lower part of the body, which is pushed against the ground, to propel it along. Most mollusks have a shell, although
some, like the slug, do not. Some snails and other mollusks have a rasping mouth called a ‘radula’, or tongue, which has thousands of teeth and a rough surface for helping it to pick up food. The tongue is actually made of ‘chitin’, a substance that is quite hard and
which forms the exoskeleton of arthropods.
The average snail moves at a speed of 0.0000362005 miles per hour! According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the African snail is the world’s largest gastropod, with one specimen measuring 15.5″ from tip of foot to end of head and a shell that measured 10.75″. It weighed four pounds, so beware if you are out in the grass looking for snails!