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petit gris

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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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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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Meet the Snails day

Festival time again! It’s the Strawberry Fayre at Brogdale this weekend so Sunday is the first ‘Meet the snails’ day of the summer season. I will be there with snails big and small explaining how they live to anyone who wants to listen. You can handle the big snails and let them explore your fingers. They’ll probably give you a gentle nibble to see what you’re made of but it doesn’t hurt – it tickles.Image People are often surprised to find that snails lay eggs but gardeners usually say ‘Oh that’s what they are!’ They’ve seen them in the garden, probably in the soil round a potted plant, but didn’t know what they were. The baby snails, for the mini snail farms, will wow everyone as usual – even people who don’t like snails have to admit that the babies are cute. Their shells are translucent and they move so fast, waving their ridiculously long antennae.Image

As well as the Roman snails I’ll be taking some petit gris – the little snails that are so popular in France.Image

(a reader who is more observant than I am noticed that this photo has been reversed so that the snail shell is spiralling the wrong way!)

Look forward to seeing you there!

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