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Conchological Society

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Welcome to 2015 from the molluscs and me

2014 was quite year!

Fireworks Show

Looking back to last January I can see I spent a lot of time reading and reviewing books in the short days and long evenings of winter. My memory is so bad these days I'd forgotten that Bugsy and Splash the guinea pigs joined the menagerie back in January too. Splash was very old and cranky so we weren't surprised when he left us to join the great guinea pig heaven in October. I wondered if Bugsy would pine but he seems to be enjoying not having to share his breakfast with someone else. Nevertheless I think we will be looking for a companion for him soon. In February I posted my first blog about Mollusc World, the wonderful magazine of the Conchological Society and I'm sure I will be telling you more on that subject. Moving Slow Summer Snail Farm from Brogdale to Littlebourne Allotments was a major event that took months of hard work but it all started in February... much earlier than I thought. Who would have thought that the floods happened in February? I'm so glad I took some pictures otherwise I would have forgotten what it looked like.

March began with some thoughts about why snails feature on the menu during Lent. I've recently been given some new insights into why snails fell out of favour in England after centuries of popularity. The new information came from a blogger called Miss Foodwise, who is very knowledgeable on the history of cooking in Britain.  She suggested that the Reformation was the key to the change because after that it became dangerous to engage in any activity that might be associated with Catholicism. So the ‘wallfish’ was left to flourish and become a garden pest instead of remaining the cheap nutritious source of protein it still is in many parts of the world.

Well that was the first three months of 2014 - lots more to come!

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What's that snail?

The latest wonderful publication courtesy of the Conchological Society is an illustrated guide to the land snails of the British Isles.

ImageHaven't you always wanted to know what kind of snail that was eating your plants? Well here's just the thing for you. It's a laminated fold out strip with 9 pages of pictures and three pages of explanatory text. Did you know there were 99 species of snail living in the British Isles? The page I've photographed is the one with Helix pomatia - Roman snail, Helix lucorum - Turkish snail and Cornu aspersum - what we snail farmers still call Helix aspersa and what most people call the common snail - or some stronger vocabulary when it's destroying their garden. The pictures on this page helpfully show the difference between Cepaea nemoralis and Cepaea hortensis - those lovely stripey or coloured snails we see so often. It's so easy to get them mixed up. Nemoralis has a brown lip and hortensis has a white lip so most of the little snails in my garden I think are hortensis. I am sure you were just dying to know that!

 

 

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Mollusc World - haven't you read it yet?

The Conchological Society publishes a fascinating magazine that goes by the wonderful name of Mollusc World. It is just the sort of magazine you should all have on your occasional table... well I think it's interesting anyway! One of the gems this time was a story about the novelist Patricia Highsmith. Apparently she was very fond of snails - alive not in garlic butter, and would often carry them around as companions in her handbag. She is said to have produced some at a dinner party and introduced them to the other guests when she was bored. I travelled up to London on the train today with a couple of dozen snails in my handbag and introduced them to a potential new customer - but I suppose that's different. I was conscious all the time that they were there, nestled between my A to Z and the obligatory folded umbrella but they kept quiet. They were fast asleep when I packed them but woke up on the way there - you can't expect a snail to keep quiet when it's raining outside.

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Helix aspersa muller: 'petit gris'

Other gems from Mollusc World included a request from the author of a New Naturalist book on Slugs and Snails to be published next year, asking for information on their recorded speed of movement and those stories about snails being used to crawl over wounds after the battle of Crecy in the Hundred Years War. 'Answers on a postcard' please or email to radc@blueyonder.co.uk.

When I was woken in the middle of night by the crash of a snail hitting the floor from a great height I leapt out of bed in an instant. There was a mass breakout in the snail room and there were dozens of escapees all over the ceiling. I rushed about a bit but eventually gave up and went back to bed and lay there pondering about the use of snails to promote the healing of wounds.

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A fine romance ... for snails

As it is Valentine's Day I thought I'd better write an appropriate post. Last year I joined the Conchological Society and I really enjoy reading the articles in Molluscan World. Last November there was an article describing the behaviour of a scalariform Cepaea nemoralis:

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Rosemary Hill acquired this beautiful snail with its extended shell, named Curly, from a garden centre, looked after it and observed its behaviour. What she observed was some interesting activity that seemed to be a preparation for attracting a mate. The first one, shell cleaning is something I've seen my snails doing. They stretch their bodies right out and round so they can clean the shell. It's amazing that Curly managed to reach the tip of hers. The other activity was what she called 'hanging around' where the snail climbs up to a high place and just hangs there as though waiting for a mate to pass by. It's a long time since I was a teenager but I seem to remember it involved quite a lot of dressing up and hanging around in public places hoping someone would notice. I wonder if the snail is doing something like that too. Hanging about is certainly something else I've seen my snails doing.

ImageNormally if a snail gets upside down it holds on tight with the shell pressed up against the surface but this is different - lots of the foot is on show - very 'come hither' I'd say. Maybe its stretching things too far to describe this as romance but it's tempting especially today.

By the way, Curly did mate and lay eggs and none of the babies had scalariform shells - they were all a normal shape.

(Molluscs World is the magazine of the Conchological Society. The article 'A scalariform Cepaea nemoralis' by Rosemary Hill was an article in last November's edition)

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