Monday, October 5, 2009


All I intended to do last night was confirm that slugs are snails without a shell (yes, it is true). Next thing you know, I am knee deep in snail slime, thanks to the weird news - most of it quite recent. The article that set me off was about Bulgarians finding a niche market growing snails for consumption in western Europe. The farmer interviewed is raising 1 million snails and says, "Indeed, you cannot tell there is a farm here. But snails do not moo." The farming of snails is known as heliciculture. The biggest consumers of escargot are the French and Italians (eating 25,000-36,00 tons per year), Portugal (eating 4,000 tons per year), Spain, and Greece; they also feature in Asian and African cuisine. Before they are prepared to be eaten, they should be cleansed by making them fast for 3 days and then giving them flour and water for a week. While some people are cultivating them, others are battling them back. Volunteers in Mobile, Alabama, held a snail hunt on Saturday to try to slow the spread of an invasive species - the island apple snail, native to Central and South America - that officials believe got into the waterways by way of a dumped home aquarium.
To scientists, snails are to be studied, not eaten. Researchers in Hawaii are trying to stem the precipitous decline of native tree snails, which are being devoured by rats. The Open University enlisted the British public's help in March of this year to undertake a snail survey of the creatures in their gardens; the data gathered will be combined with 8,000 historical records to produce the largest evolutionary study of snails to date. In Australia, 45 new snail species have just been discovered on the islands off the western coast, and the late "crocodile hunter" Steve Irwin (1962-2006) has been honored by naming a new snail found in the tropics of northern Queensland Crikey steveirwini. In nearby New Zealand, the fate of rare native land snails that have been relocated from a mountain to make way for a coal mine is in jeopardy because they are not thriving in their new habitat; in addition, conservationists are trying to shore up the reputation of a giant indigenous meat-eating land snail.
Because they move so slowly - and are in fact slowing down - snails have come to represent lethargy and laziness. A man in Poland made the news when he did the math and concluded that snails (.048km per hour) travelled faster than priority "snail mail" (.03775km per hour). And of course, I've saved the best for last: the slippery mess that hundreds of snails left as they crossed a busy highway near Stuttgart, Germany, caused a 6-car pile-up last summer: "Cars were crushing the snails and the slime was making the road so slippery that people started to skid all over the place," described one driver. "Motorists had to stop and try to pick themselves through the snails. It was like something from a horror film."
Consider yourself slimed...

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