Snail yoga

A while back we had turtle yoga and now I bring you snail yoga –

I call that the Upward Snail pose. As opposed to the Downward Dog.

Seriously strange. At the time I couldn’t see that the snail actually moved while I was taking my bracketing shots and I thought it was dead for a time. But it’s not, just moving very slowly and not reacting to my presence by retracting into the shell.

All the photos here are bracketed and stacked. The one up there is a 15-photo stack, this next one I think is 10 or 12. And you can see it did move – one eye stalk is retracted as is a lot of the body back into the shell. At the time I think I recognized this, but I was changing angles and positions so it was less obvious. I know they are really slow sometimes, but this was ridiculous.

Whatever was causing this little critter to be so still came in handy. I’ve never had the opportunity to get a shot that was so crisp from front to back. It took a little Zerene magic to accomplish here –

With this shot it did actually move quite a bit although not so much I couldn’t combine the photos in the usual way I stack. Luckily though I could make separate images work because there was enough depth of field to have overlap. I used one photo for the shell, one for the far eye stalk, one for the near, one for the body and one for some of the coral that it’s heading towards – that’s five images all nicely blended. I like that it has an underwater aspect, like a coral reef. But it’s actually on a log, possibly a hemlock, but I don’t know. In the shot above you can see just a little bit of a slug just behind the top part of the coral fungus. It, too, appeared dead. So strange.

Maybe this kind of mushroom affects them. It’s Crown-tipped coral (Artomyces pyxidatus) which is edible, but bitter and not very tasty to humans. Could be it has some chemical that anesthetizes mollusks or something. If you look closely at this kind of coral fungi or other species, you’ll see them well-nibbled.

It’s estimated that Wisconsin has about 100 species of land snail. Most prefer a calcium-rich environment so they can continue to grow their shells. You can find snails directly feeding on high-calcium sources like antler and bone and even rock like limestone. A structure called the mantle secretes the calcium to form new shell. The oldest part of the shell is the center of the spiral and as the snail grows, the shell expands to accommodate its body.

They eat using basically just a tongue called a radula, which they use to scrape up bits of whatever they might find tasty. Leaves, fungi, bark if it’s soft enough, fruit and even algae. They scrape it up and down the esophagus it goes. Experts can identify the species of snail that has fed on something by looking at the marks the radula leaves behind.

In turn these guys are eaten by just about everything else – birds (especially turkeys), snakes, turtles, raccoons and even salamanders will take the little ones. Proteins and calcium in one handy package. If you can get through the shell. Unlike aquatic species, land snails don’t have an operculum which sort of acts like a door or plug to protect the snail. These guys just suck it all in and try to be stinky or bad tasting to keep from being lunch.

Below the abdomen (which shows nicely in two of these shots) is the foot – that ribbony bit and that’s how they move about – by thymically flexing and secreting a nice slippery substance to slide on. Snail trails. It also keeps the snail from becoming too dry.

The eyes on the end of those stalks can move and retract, but they don’t see very well; basically they can just tell light from dark and that’s it. The shorter little nubs you see below the eyes are also tentacles, and are sensitive to touch, but also taste and smell using specialized cells called chemoreceptors. When they crawl on something they know immediately whether they can eat it.

They are hermaphroditic so when two meet and are suitably impressed with each other, they have a mating ritual that, as you might imagine, takes a long time. Sometimes almost a whole day. To quote George Costanza, it involves a lot of touching and rubbing. Then there is the “love dart” they are both armed with. Each basically fires one into the other at point blank range. It was thought that sperm got transferred in this way, but it’s now known the dart releases a substance that helps the sperm live longer and the sperm itself is transferred to a special-purpose opening in each snail. Phew. When that’s all done they each lay their eggs pretty much on the spot or the nearest bit of soil. The resulting snailettes eat their egg shells in order to absorb the calcium needed to strengthen their own little, baby shells.

And finally, if that didn’t gross you out a little, maybe this will. Not sure if it’s still a thing, but for a while there, a hot beauty trend involved slime that was harvested from farmed snails and used in face cream. Hm. Not quite the look I’m going for.

Anyway…that was my strange snail encounter. Maybe one day I’ll know why it was stuck like that and even get to see it again.



3 thoughts on “Snail yoga

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    1. Thanks – it still baffles me. I asked a couple of mycologists if they’d ever seen or heard of a reaction like this to that type of fungi and neither had any idea or had seen this. Strange! But the best snail pictures I’ve ever taken, so it had an upside!

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