Spurned by Potential Mates, Jeremy the Lefty Snail Is Still Single
Romantics like to say there’s someone out there for everyone—and for a stretch of time, this adage seemed to hold true for Jeremy the lefty garden snail. Discovered in England last year, the mollusk made global headlines after scientists noted that its rare anatomy made sex nearly impossible for the snail. A public search yielded mates with similar parts, and researchers hoped that this meant that Jeremy was destined for a happy ending. But as The Washington Post reports, Jeremy’s prospective mate ended up preferring another slimy suitor.
Most garden snails have shells that curl right, and genitals on the right side of their heads. But thanks to a genetic mutation, Jeremy’s shell goes left, as do his reproductive parts. The problem? Snails mate by lining up their bodies and swapping fluids, meaning Jeremy needed a partner with the same rare body type to properly copulate. (A note for clarity: Snails are hermaphroditic, but scientists at first chose to refer to Jeremy using male pronouns. While they've recently reconsidered that decision, we're using male pronouns for consistency's sake.)
Scientists at England’s University of Nottingham—who reported in February 2016 that they had found the gene linked to snail-shell spiral shape—wanted to study Jeremy’s genes to see if they provided clues about body asymmetry in other animals. For this effort, they needed baby Jeremys, and so they sought to locate him a like-bodied paramour.
A global search helped scientists find two other lefty mollusks, named Lefty and Tomeu, with parts that mirrored Jeremy’s. Scientists hoped that one of the two would take a liking to their lonely charge. But in a cruel twist of fate, Lefty and Tomeu preferred each other to Jeremy, and ended up getting it on.
The new couple’s first batch of eggs hatched in April, fathered by Lefty and mothered by Tomeu, and two more are on the way— one of them fathered by Tomeu and mothered by Lefty. (Remember, they're hermaphroditic.) This was bad news for Jeremy but good news for the scientists, who were playing snail matchmaker so they could study lefty snail babies. Sure enough, Lefty and Tomeu’s offspring revealed new genetic insights: Each of the hatched snails has developed a right-twisting shell, proving that "two lefts clearly make a right," one of the researchers, Angus Davison, told the Post.
That said, Davison and his colleagues are still hoping that the aging Jeremy will also get a second shot at romance: Since Lefty has been returned to his collector owner, they’re thinking that Tomeu might use him as a rebound love interest.
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[h/t The Washington Post]