Posted by: lensweb | June 18, 2020

Cupid’s Arrow, the unlikely story of Courtship in the Garden Snail

Garden snails (Cornu aspersum) are widespread and common throughout the UK. They are one of Nature’s great recyclers of rotten vegetation. They usually come out at night to feed and spend the day in sheltered places. If conditions are too dry, the snail retreats inside it’s sealed shell, for months if necessary: During winter they hibernate. When conditions allow, they mate with another snail following an elaborate courtship behaviour. Then they lay around 80 white eggs in damp ground. Newly-hatched snails have fragile shells and take about two years to mature. Adult snails can live for 5-10 years.

Now, look at this photo.

IMG_4918m

Can you see the love dart? These love darts are fired at each other during garden snail courtship, before actual mating takes place. This is difficult to believe but here you have the evidence!

Garden snails are hermaphrodites having both male and female characteristics.  As you would expect, courtship is a long drawn out procedure. The two snails circle around each other for up to six hours, touching with their tentacles and eventually each of the two snails attempts to “shoot” calcium carbonate love darts into any part of the other snail in contact. Even at such close quarters, they often miss. The love dart transfers a hormone which enhances the female component of the reproductive system in the stabbed snail and allows more sperm to be available to fertilize the eggs, so increasing the shooter’s paternity. Then mating takes place.

Could it be possible that the elaborate courtship behaviour of snails inspired the myth of love darts fired by the Roman god Cupid?

Marion Bryce 18 June 2020


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