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Helix aspersa

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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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Roman snails @Lullingstone

Tom Hart Dyke was on Radio 4 the other morning talking about his kidnap experience in Colombia some years ago. I was reminded of the day he invited me to go to Lullingstone Castle to see his Roman snails. Now there was an offer not to be refused!

my Roman snail

This picture is one of the farmed Roman snails I bought from Italy last year. I've kept half a dozen hoping they might breed but I'm not hopeful as they are so fussy about where they like to live. But I digress. At Lullingstone, Tom and I rummaged about in the undergrowth along the paths until we found some empty shells and eventually one real live Roman snail - it wasn't at all pleased to see us. We were very careful not to disturb it as they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act but it certainly knew we were there and retreated into its shell to wait until it was safe to come out. While we sat in the potting shed drinking coffee, Tom talked about seeing the snails every day on the path when he was walking to the station each morning to go to school. Locals could remember seeing them often in the past and we know they've been in Britain certainly since the Romans brought them to eat. There's a Roman villa at Lullingstone of course so that would fit the story.  The differences between Helix pomatia (Roman snails)  and Helix aspersa (our common garden snails and escargots) are quite subtle but this photo shows them quite well. The foot is a different shape - with a central ridge and a sort of 'skirt' round it and the pattern on the skin is different if you look closely. I think they are lovely creatures ...but I could be biased of course!

 

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