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Helix pomatia

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Roman snails reappear to enjoy the sun

baby Romans 08.04.15 In August last year our first baby Roman snails emerged from the soil in their pen at Littlebourne Allotments. I counted about 30 but they were so tiny and it was so late in the year I wondered if they would survive the winter. But yesterday I was delighted to see the warm weather had brought the little snails out to graze during the day and I counted 33. I gave them some water and dry food and they were soon tucking in.

Most of the other snails were collected up in October/ November and taken indoors either to hibernate or to carry on growing in a warm shed. But I left a few out just to see how they would get on outside. These were mullers (petit gris) and I reasoned they might be more hardy as they are smaller and more like our common garden snails. Well, some of them died but most have survived I think and they too were out snacking while the sun shone:

overwintered mullers 08.04.15When they are tiny like this the Helix aspersa mullers and the Helix pomatia (Roman snails) look very similar. But if you look at the foot you can see a difference in the shape: the foot of the Roman snail looks as though it has a skirt round the edge while the mullers don't have that. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed the weather doesn't suddenly turn very cold again and catch them out. Only a few more weeks before Slow Summer Snail Farm moves outside for another English summer.

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Flirting the Roman way

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Aongside the serious business of farming, I'm keeping a small pen of Roman snails. These six beauties spent the winter in my fridge and now the mating and laying season for Roman snails has started, things are seriously hotting up. You may not share my fascination with snails but you have to admit this is some interesting behaviour I've captured in this shot. I'm pretty sure there's some serious flirting going on here, not a boxing match. All I need now is some eggs please.

I will just reiterate for the benefit of those who don't know, that Roman snails: Helix pomatia, are protected in Britain under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and must not be disturbed. My lovely specimens were imported from a reputable source in Italy and not collected from the wild. If you see Helix pomatia offered for sale you need to satisfy yourself that they are from a reputable source. In many other European countries where they occur they are semi-protected so that, for example, you can't collect during the laying season and mustn't take snails of a certain size so that the population is sustained.

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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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