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homing instinct

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Does travel broaden a snail's mind?

Did you know there’s a whole industry devoted to pet travel? There are even pet travel agencies. So if your dog wants to take a break in the country there is a company who will organise that for him. I only found this out because I was trying to find a company that would transport some snails for me. That’s when I met the dreaded lists of prohibited items. I wasn’t surprised by the explosives and I guess taking a lion or giraffe for a ride would require an expert. But why on earth live animals of all kinds are excluded I just don’t understand. All I wanted was a van to bring me 5 big cardboard boxes. If I hadn’t told them what was inside they would never have known. The snails will be peacefully slumbering so they won’t be able to watch the world go by.

When I buy beautiful snails from France to lay eggs for me, I’ve often wondered if they get homesick. Now that Ruth Brooks has shown they have a homing instinct (http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/sywtbas/2010/ruth/) I wonder how long it is before they get used to being transplanted. Do they gaze wistfully south and sniff the wind when the weather’s cold? When they climb the sides of their pen are they heading for the A2 hoping to hitch a lift across the channel? After a while do they come to feel attached to our particular corner of East Kent?

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A Slow Passion

Ruth Brooks’ story was a gift from the BBC. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/sywtbas/2010/ruth/) At Slow Summer Snail Farm, when I was trying to bring snails to the attention of the public as an animal that could promote scientific enquiry in children, Ruth's story came along. She loves her garden and was fascinated by the behaviour of her garden snails. She noticed that they chose special resting places and eating places, sometimes quite a distance apart. Ruth spent years trying to get rid of snails using all the usual methods but eventually decided that enforced repatriation was a better solution. After collecting them up and taking them to a nice new home she was puzzled to see them quickly re-appear. When Radio 4 advertised their competition for Amateur Scientist of the Year Ruth took the chance to follow her curiosity and find out more under the guidance of a ‘real’ scientist. I told everyone I met about her experiments into the snail’s homing instinct and urged them to try it out. Ruth had groups of children everywhere painting the shells of their garden snails with nail polish and swapping with their neighbours to see what happened. Now the book is out and I had to read it. Ruth has collected some really fascinating information about snails and her enthusiasm shines through in her writing. If you're interested in wildlife and the mysteries of the garden then this book is for you.

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