Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex

Snail Trails

My thanks to everyone who came to my talk at the Lichfield Festival on Tuesday. A wonderful audience and enjoyably challenging questions.

An additional thanks to Nick Hardwick who got in touch after the talk:

“Thank you for your talk at the Lichfield Festival today, I really enjoyed it. I’d somehow got the impression that your book was all about folklore, so was delighted to find that you were approaching the subject from a scientific point of view. As a retired Dermatologist, I’m used to scanning people for signs, so this approach carries right over.

I grew up in Rhodesia, where my Dad taught me map reading and the use of a prismatic compass; we lived in a small mining town, and it was normal, in the days before the guerrilla war, to go roaming in the bush. A number of school camps and an Outward Bound course on the mountainous border with Mozambique, and my love of hiking was sealed. Although these days I rely on my GPS and an OS map, I do know Cannock Chase well enough to rely on memory, topography, the sun and the cloud from the Rugeley Power station!

Re the photograph of “snail toothmarks” – I first saw this on the roof of our greenhouse and wondered if it was caused by some kind of fly eating fungi that were growing in the dew. However, after delaying a clean for my stone patio, the second set appeared, this time looking more like a snail track. I’m not sure if you can use this for navigating, the snail doesn’t seem to have a strong sense of direction! – see entry for Weds 15 Aug, Radulae

I am looking forward to tucking into your book.”

Thanks Nick! Love the photos.

Using snails to orientate ourselves is tricky, but they do offer some more general clues and are fascinating creatures,

From The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues & Signs, p.255:

Snails need a lot of calcium carbonate to build their shells, so snails spotted away from a pond are a clue to a chalky landscape. Scientists have found that periwinkles can orientate themselves using the sun and will sometimes leave an oval track as the sun swings around the sky. This offers up the opportunity to do some truly bizarre tracking: by noticing the direction of the periwinkle track you can work out, from the angle of the sun and its relationship with time, exactly when it passed that way. By this point, you might decide it’s time to get out less.”

And from The Natural Navigator, p.216:

“Snails can find their way over relatively huge distances, hundreds of metres, but lose this ability if they are shaken in a bag, which raises two questions: why do they lose this ability and why were they shaken in a bag?”