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16 Surprisingly Fast Facts About Snails

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Snails are mostly known for their speed, or lack thereof. We get it, they’re not the fastest animal on Earth. But there are plenty of other things about snails to amaze. For instance, one species of snail can grow up to a foot and a half long! Here are 16 other fascinating facts about these slow-moving creatures: 

1. THEY’RE NO DIFFERENT FROM SLUGS …

The only measurable difference between snails and slugs is that the former has a shell. 

2. … THOUGH SOME SLUGS ONLY APPEAR TO BE SHELL-LESS

In reality, slug families such as Limacidae and Milacidae have internal shell plates hidden within their bodies. Smaller shells can help the creatures to be more mobile, an evolutionary advantage when it comes to chasing down prey. 

3. THEY’RE RELATED TO SHELLFISH. 

Slugs and snails are mollusks, putting them in the same category as oysters, clams, and mussels. Gastropods (the taxonomic class for snails and slugs) are the largest group of mollusks, comprising more than 80 percent of living mollusk species. They’re also one of the most diverse groups of animals in terms of form, habitat, and behaviors. 

4. THEY LIVE EVERYWHERE ON EARTH. 

There may be as many 150,000 species of gastropods, and they live in almost all habitats, from deep ocean trenches to deserts.

5. THEY MIGHT BE THE INSPIRATION FOR CUPID. 

A snail’s love dart. Image Credit: Joris M. Koene and Hinrich Schulenburg via Wikipedia // CC BY 2.0

One researcher argues that the myth of Cupid’s arrow might come from the mating rituals of Helix aspersa, a garden snail. Some of these snails shoot “love darts” at the object of their affections, containing mucus that increases the chances of their sperm surviving (snails are hermaphrodites, and both individuals receive sperm during mating). However, in earlier times, people believed that these snot rockets were gifts of calcium or were an aphrodisiac, and McGill University’s Ron Chase argues that this might the inspiration behind Cupid’s desire-inducing quiver. 

6. THEY’VE INSPIRED MEDICAL ADHESIVES. 

Researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital and MIT have developed an adhesive that mimics the stickiness of a slug’s slime, the same gel that allows marine snails to cling to rocks in the surf. The medical glue is designed for use in repairing heart defects, and would stick to even jagged surfaces where traditional sutures might leak. So far, it’s only been tested on pig hearts. 

7. THEIR MUCUS MIGHT IMPROVE YOUR SKIN. 

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Some studies have found that snail mucus might be useful to help wounds heal, possibly by triggering an immune response that helps skin cells regenerate. 

8. SOME AQUATIC SNAILS HAVE LUNGS. 

Some freshwater snails do not breathe underwater through gills, but rely on a type of lung, floating to the surface each time they need to breathe. Some snails have both gills and a lung. The apple snail has a siphon, a breathing tube that it can stretch up to the water’s surface to breathe without exposing itself to predators. 

9. A SNAIL CAN TAKE DOWN A STARFISH. 

The giant triton, Charonia tritonis, can grow up to a foot and a half long. It’s also an aggressive predator with a keen sense of smell, and it loves to eat starfish, paralyzing them with venomous saliva. 

10. FOR PRE-COLUMBIAN AMERICANS, SNAILS WERE A SYMBOL OF JOY. 

The sea snail was considered a symbol of rebirth and joy for Mesoamericans, who believed the whirled shape of its shell represented the circle of life. 

11. THEY CAN BE TURNED INTO MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS. 

Conches are very large sea snails. People have used shell trumpets as musical instruments for millennia. Shell trumpets play an important part in the mythology of ancient Greece, India, and Hawaii. In ancient Greek mythology, for instance, the sea god Triton calmed the waves with a conch-shell trumpet. 

12. THEY LIKE TO DINE TOGETHER.

Some garden snails prefer eating from the same food source as another snail, even when there is other food readily available nearby. Family dinner, anyone? 

13. THE FIRST WOMAN TO COMPETE IN INTERNATIONAL CAR RACING WENT BY THE PSEUDONYM “SNAIL.” 

Hélène van Zuylen, a 19th-century French socialite and writer, completed the 1898 Paris–Amsterdam–Paris trail, reportedly becoming the first woman to compete in an international car race. Her husband, the president of the Automobile Club de France, raced under the name “Escargot.” 

14. SOME HAVE HAIRY SHELLS. 

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Several species of terrestrial snails have hairy shells, especially the juveniles. Scientists postulate that this might be an adaptation that improves locomotion in wet environments, since hairy snails tend to come from humid areas.

15. NOVELIST PATRICIA HIGHSMITH TOOK THEM TO PARTIES.

Highsmith, whose novels Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley were adapted into now-famous films, reportedly preferred mollusks to people. She kept around 300 snails as pets, and they appear in several of her literary works. In a biography of the writer, author Joan Schenkar quotes someone describing Highsmith as “the woman who produced snails from her handbag and encouraged them to leave sticky trails all over her host’s tabletop.”

16. THE WORLD’S SMALLEST LAND SNAIL COULD FIT THROUGH THE EYE OF A NEEDLE

The recently discovered Angustopila dominikae may be the smallest land snail ever found, with a shell just 0.03 inches tall. If you lined 10 of them up in a row, they could all march through the eye of a needle together. Any snail shorter than 0.2 inches officially qualifies as a microgastropod.


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Whale Sharks Can Live for More Than a Century, Study Finds
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Some whale sharks alive today have been swimming around since the Gilded Age. The animals—the largest fish in the ocean—can live as long as 130 years, according to a new study in the journal Marine and Freshwater Research. To give you an idea of how long that is, in 1888, Grover Cleveland was finishing up his first presidential term, Thomas Edison had just started selling his first light bulbs, and the U.S. only had 38 states.

To determine whale sharks' longevity, researchers from the Nova Southeastern University in Florida and the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program tracked male sharks around South Ari Atoll in the Maldives over the course of 10 years, calculating their sizes as they came back to the area over and over again. The scientists identified sharks that returned to the atoll every few years by their distinctive spot patterns, estimating their body lengths with lasers, tape, and visually to try to get the most accurate idea of their sizes.

Using these measurements and data on whale shark growth patterns, the researchers were able to determine that male whale sharks tend to reach maturity around 25 years old and live until they’re about 130 years old. During those decades, they reach an average length of 61.7 feet—about as long as a bowling lane.

While whale sharks are known as gentle giants, they’re difficult to study, and scientists still don’t know a ton about them. They’re considered endangered, making any information we can gather about them important. And this is the first time scientists have been able to accurately measure live, swimming whale sharks.

“Up to now, such aging and growth research has required obtaining vertebrae from dead whale sharks and counting growth rings, analogous to counting tree rings, to determine age,” first author Cameron Perry said in a press statement. ”Our work shows that we can obtain age and growth information without relying on dead sharks captured in fisheries. That is a big deal.”

Though whale sharks appear to be quite long-lived, their lifespan is short compared to the Greenland shark's—in 2016, researchers reported they may live for 400 years. 

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Animal Welfare Groups Are Building a Database of Every Cat in Washington, D.C.
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There are a lot of cats in Washington, D.C. They live in parks, backyards, side streets, and people's homes. Exactly how many there are is the question a new conservation project wants to answer. DC Cat Count, a collaboration between Humane Rescue Alliance, the Humane Society, PetSmart Charities, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, aims to tally every cat in the city—even house pets, The New York Times reports.

Cities tend to support thriving feral cat populations, and that's a problem for animal conservationists. If a feline is born and grows up without human contact, it will never be a suitable house cat. The only options animal control officials have are to euthanize strays or trap and sterilize them, and release them back where they were found. If neither action is taken, it's the smaller animals that belong in the wild who suffer. Cats are invasive predators, and each year they kill billions of birds in the U.S. alone.

Before animal welfare experts and wildlife scientists can tackle this problem, they need to understand how big it is. Over the next three years, DC Cat Count will use various methods to track D.C.'s cats and build a feline database for the city. Sixty outdoor camera traps will capture images of passing cats, relying on infrared technology to sense them most of the time.

Citizens are being asked to help as well. An app is currently being developed that will allow users to snap photos of any cats they see, including their own pets. The team also plans to study the different ways these cats interact with their environments, like how much time pets spend indoors versus outdoors, for example. The initiative has a $1.5 million budget to spend on collecting data.

By the end of the project, the team hopes to have the tools both conservationists and animal welfare groups need to better control the local cat population.

Lisa LaFontaine, president and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance, said in a statement, “The reality is that those in the fields of welfare, ecology, conservation, and sheltering have a common long-term goal of fewer free-roaming cats on the landscape. This joint effort will provide scientific management programs to help achieve that goal, locally and nationally."

[h/t The New York Times]

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