#MolluscMonday

The sky over the farm has alternated between various shades of grey for the past few days. Steel grey, iron grey, dove grey, slate grey, ash grey, grey, grey, grey! We have had torrential downpours and thunderstorms interspersed with gusty winds and  fog. Everything underfoot is damp, much to the delight of the molluscs.

I spent most of the morning wandering around the garden, turning over rocks, rooting in bushes and upending empty plant pots in search of snails.

First to be found  was this specimen, lurking behind the potted Centaurea.

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Garden Snail

If I said to you “Imagine a snail” I’m pretty sure the Garden Snail, Helix aspersa, would be amongst the images you conjured up.

These snails are widespread across the UK, often living in close contact with humans. Preferred habitat includes gardens and park where they are able to munch their way through a variety of greenery.Wet daytime conditions can bring them out of their shells, but for the most part they are nocturnal. They move about using a large muscular foot and copious amounts of mucus. A study by the University of Exeter showed how snails can travel the length of an average UK garden in one night, moving at a surprising speedy pace (1 meter/hour). They also discovered that these snails often ‘piggy back’ along other snail trails, allowing them to conserve energy.

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Around the corner, clinging precariously to a shrub, I spotted this Grove snail. This species is also known as the Brown lipped snail, due to the brown band around the aperture .  Grove snails are polymorphic, meaning the colour of the shell can vary. It can be brown,white,cream,yellow or even red, like this individual found adorning the garden gate

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They look awfully similar to another common species, the White lipped snail.The obvious difference in appearance is the colour of the aperture band.

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However, just to make life really complicated, there is a colour morph of the Grove Snail that has a white lip! Identification then falls to dissection and differences in the snails reproductive organs.

Along the top of the old chicken shed, in amongst the straggly tussocks of grass and wandering weeds I found several Strawberry Snails (Trochulus striolatus).

DSC_0954__1468274671_72395These snails have much flatter shells with pronounced ribbing and a ‘belly button’ like hole on the underside (umbilicus)

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At the top of the garden I found this collection of broken shells, discarded on the path that leads to the old Ty Bach. You may have noticed small piles of discarded, shattered shells like this around your patch, a sign that a thrush has feasted. These song birds use stones, or in this case flat slates, to smash shells rendering their contents edible. They tend to return to a particular ‘anvil’ repeatedly, leaving a trail of mangled carapaces in their wake.

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To finish off my #MolluscMonday I marked some of the Garden snail’s on the patio. Hopefully this will give us an insight into the size of the snail population in our garden.

I have always had a soft spot for snails, and my day spent grubbing about into the undergrowth has made me appreciate them even more. Growing up in suburban London, with a postage stamp garden, wildlife was a real novelty. Snails were one thing we had in spades, and we used to study them at ever opportunity.

I know not everyone shares my appreciation of these slimy creatures. The ability to make short work of consuming a vegetable patch has earned them a spot on many Gardener’s ‘Top 10 pest’s’ list. Apart from chomping their way through your prized Hostas, they may also pose a hazard to your pets. They can act as a host for Angiostrongylus vasorum, commonly known as ‘Lungworm’. This parasite can prove deadly for dogs, who come into contact with it when they accidentally (or deliberately, some dogs seem to love the taste!) ingest snails or slugs when out and about. For more information on how to protect your pet, check out the Lungworm Aware campaign.