SNAILS: Flipping out, cooling off, heating up, and looking for answers.

Scientists are always trying to answers the big questions; but sometimes to get those big answers we need to start small. Like under-some-dirt-in-your-garden-never-even-noticed-them small.

So I dug out some of our under-appreciated and under-studied critters to start asking the big questions. My research took a closer look at two invasive snail species found in Southwestern British Columbia: the Glass Snail (Oxychilus sp.) and the Grove Snail (Cepaea nemoralis).

To better understand where these snails are likely to live and how they might cope with a changing environment I observed their response to temperature change.

The snails were split into two groups. One set was kept at a chilly 3ºC for 48 hours, the others were kept cozy at 19ºC. When the treatment was over it was time to flip some snails…

Snails are highly motivated to not be stuck on their backs. So one by one I performed a “righting time” test: snails were flipped upside down onto their shells. From that point I timed just how long it took this snail to flip completely back over. This “righting time” is a good approximation of how agile and active that snail is!

Watch below to see righting time analysis for one little Grove snail:


So I flipped and flipped and flipped… and finally the times were all in!

After comparing all righting times I found that both snail species slowed down in response to being left out in the cold!

Interestingly I also found a difference between my two groups: the Grove Snails were a whole lot faster than the Glass snails!

So who was the fastest?  Your friendly neighbourhood Grove snail (Cepaea nemoralis) when kept at a nice 19ºC.

Snails hibernate in cold weather, their body functions slow down as they settle down for their winter snooze. So it makes sense that the cold treatment made both snail species a little less active than their usual speedy-selves.

Explaining the difference in flipping time between species is more complicated… maybe the flat shell of the glass snail is harder to flip with its little body, or maybe grove snails are a little tougher when it comes to spending 48 hours in the fridge!

The primary goal of this research was to provide some understanding of how these species respond to different temperatures, as a baseline for further studies into how they might spread in an environment as invasive species, or as a result of climate change…But it became much more than that! It became an observation of how little we know about these diverse critters.

glass snail pic

Note the translucent shell on Oxychilus sp. (hence the name Glass snail). If you look closely you can watch their lungs pump!

The physical and behavioural differences between just these two species was astounding! They are fascinating, friendly, and wildly understudied. You can identify the snails you see in your garden here, and start making observations! Go forth and discover the drama and intrigue of the daily life of a good ol’ garden dwelling gastropod. 🐌 


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