zoology biology benno meyer rochow science blog snails love

Cupid with a Slimy foot

The love life of snails

Terrestrial snails are generally slow moving and to many people rather uninteresting animals (unless, of course, you are French and an escargot fan). However, fact is that the slimy and sticky mucus that these snails are producing has not made them many friends and there are even folk, who find them disgusting. And yet, they possess a fascinating love life.

Take the edible Helix pomatia snail, for instance. Normally munching mouthful after mouthful of herbage, courtship changes these sluggish eating machines into highly excited lovers with titillating pre-copulatory practices. Two passionate individuals that have found each other irresistible may rub and rear up against one another and, using their horny tentacles, will engage in mutual caressing and stroking of each other’s glistening bodies. It is after all their first rendez-vous and tête-à-tête. Seemingly oblivious to all dangers during the intense tactile foreplay, their shells meanwhile swaying to and fro as if in a hypnotic trance, one of the animals will suddenly shoot an approximately 1 cm long limestone needle from a special glandular receptacle into the flesh of the foot of its partner.

The shot of the love-dart must have caused some pain as the reaction of the recipient shows, but it also arouses the hit individual to an even greater extent and the exchange between the two individuals’ semen can commence with no further delay. As these animals are hermaphrodites, they each act as male and female at the same time, functioning as a donor (and therefore father) and a recipient of sperm (and therefore mother). Eggs are usually fertilized by the partner’s sperm and self-fertilization, although theoretically possible, is thus avoided. A few days after this stormy period in the life of our garden snails, each snail that has fulfilled its role as a father will excavate a shallow pit in the ground and lay some 40-60 white, rice grain sized, gelatinous eggs and, thus, completing its maternal role. Weather permitting, about a month later the cute and innocent little baby snails hatch.

If I haven’t been able yet to convince the reader of the snail’s fascinating love life, I might just add a snippet of information about the even slimier and shell-less black or brown garden slugs. Although self-fertilizations are practiced by them more regularly than in the garden snail and can lead to the production of up to 200 eggs, sexual encounters between two individuals also take place, at least sometimes. At the height of the then occurring copulatory embrace of two slug individuals, their intertwined penises, wrapped around each other, have swollen to a length four times their own body length (I can’t help imagining how this would look in a human!). Such passionate embraces, often occurring at night and with the two lovers suspended in mid air by a thread of sticky slime attached to a branch or rocky outcrop, can last for several hours. Well, increasing the sizes of their penises is also not something they can do in seconds. The two love-birds (sorry, I had better say “love-snails”) take their time as there are only few animals that would disturb them – they simply don’t have many enemies. And that shows that slime and mucus, they do have their advantages.

© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com, 2018.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to V.B Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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