species, habitat, way of life!

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Snails belong to the large family of molluscs and are a group of animals called shelled gastropods. They are recognizable by their twisted, univalve dorsal shell.

The diversity of snails

There are many species. There are more than 80,000 of them, and scientists suspect there are more species to be discovered. In France, there are 500 of them. Some live in fresh water but most are terrestrial. The shell of the smallest snail measures barely a millimeter in diameter while that of the largest snail measures 20 cm.

The snail and its shell

The snail has a characteristic helical shell. It plays a role in protecting vital organs. It grows constantly throughout the animal’s life, adding new layers as it grows. The border at the opening is called a peristome: its shape, thickness and color are important for identifying the species.

Most snails have a shell that curls to the right, but there are exceptions whose shells curl to the left. This rare inversion may be favored in certain populations by the presence of predators such as the Pareas iwasakii snake in Japan, which always attacks from the right side of the shell due to its asymmetrical jaw.

Snail food

Snails, like slugs, have a toothed tongue called a radula which has between 1,500 and 2,500 teeth. These are very hard asperities, organized in regular rows, which constitute an organ reminiscent of a carpenter’s rasp.

Snails feed differently depending on the species. Those that live on land are phytophagous and have intestinal flora capable of digesting plants. Aquatic snails are detritivores or scavengers.

Reproduction and survival

Snail reproduction also varies by species. In general, they are hermaphrodites: they have both male and female sexual organs. However, they need a partner to reproduce.

After mating, eggs are laid and hatch into small, miniature versions of the adult snail.

The senses of a snail

Snails have one or two pairs of retractable tentacles, depending on the species. When there are two, one has the eyes. But sight is a little-used sense. They use more of an olfactory bulb present under the eye, and on the second pair of tentacles when it exists.

When they move, they leave behind a slimy trail that helps other snails find their way.

Ideal conditions for a snail

Land snails are only active when humidity is high enough. When drought or arid conditions occur, they adopt strategies to prevent dehydration. They can retract inside their shell and seal it with a mucous veil, resulting in a short period of inactivity. Some snails seek shelter by climbing vertical surfaces like walls or grass stems to avoid excessive ground heat. There are desert-adapted species that retreat into the final whorls of their shell to create an air chamber insulating dry air, allowing them to survive in arid environments.

When it is cold or the length of daylight shortens significantly, the snail hibernates for a period of 3 to 6 months. The desert snail can hibernate for 3 years.

The snail in culture and cuisine

Snails hold a special place in the culture and cuisine of many parts of the world. In France, for example, they are popular, often cooked with garlic and butter.

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