Overnight rain brought a hatching of garden snails. Normally active at night and at dawn, perhaps the rain beckoned them in their whorled shells to saunter over sidewalks in search of groceries. Their iridescent paths and meditative pace have always delighted me when walking after a rain shower.
Garden snails are non-native to California. It is believed they arrived in 1849 with a French vintner who enjoyed escargot. They eat plants, empty snail shells and the detritus of forest floors.
Originally from Egypt and the Mediterranean, these slow-moving creatures are found on every continent except Antarctica, similar to Barn owls. Their top speed is 1.3 centimeters per second and their courtship takes four to twelve hours. As hermaphrodites, they typically mate with another snail. Self-fertilization is an option if no matches are found.
Like humans, garden snails breathe air, but have one lung. Shell colors vary from gold, yellow, and shades of brown and they retract into their shells when threatened. The shells grow additively.
Snails are members of the mollusk phylum. They live on land and in salt and fresh waters, and need calcium to grow their shells. Terrestrial snails obtain calcium by eating snail shells and by rasping cement.
They play an important role in calcium cycling, passing their shell calcium up the food chain. Passerine birds, including all song birds, consume snails during courtship to increase the calcium in, and viability of, their eggshells. With any luck, this morning’s garden snail will enjoy a long life, expanding its shell as it grows into adulthood.