At a snail’s pace
These slippery little suckers are fascinating–if frustrating– garden inhabitants, says David Tomlinson as he takes a closer look at 10 common species
David Tomlinson examines 10 species of these fascinating creatures
‘In the past, they were used for treating jaundice, corns and failing eyesight’
THERE’S nothing that better illustrates the cultural divide between the French and the British than our approach to snails. Where some of us prefer to throw the pests over the garden fence, the French regard the snail as a gastronomic delight, collecting it, cooking it and washing it down with a crisp, dry Chablis. However, neither nation has a fondness for the snail’s inedible cousin, the slug.
In Britain, we have about 120 species of snails, many of which are rare and little known, although they’re not without their admirers. Indeed, the Conchological Society of Great Britain and Ireland (www.conchsoc.org), which was founded in 1876, holds regular field meetings, often producing intriguing results. For instance, last year, one such gathering in the Harwich area of Essex recorded the presence of the greater semi-slug (not the most attractive), never before found in East Anglia.
Fortunately, there’s little chance of a greater semi-slug turning up in your garden, as it’s an indicator of ancient woodland. However, there are several species that do regularly occur in gardens, ranging from the ubiquitous garden slug to the large, handsome and protected Roman snail. Although most of us struggle to find beauty in a slug and regard death by drowning in beer as too good for them, many snail shells are exquisite when seen close up.
Terrestrial molluscs have always struggled for a good press. In the past, they were used for treating jaundice, corns, failing eyesight and to cure warts, as described so vividly by Flora Thompson in Candleford Green: ‘Warts were still charmed away by binding a large black slug upon the wart for a night and a day. Then the sufferer would go by night to the nearest cross-roads, and, by flinging the slug over the left shoulder, hope to get rid of the wart.’ I suspect they longed to get rid of the slug, too.