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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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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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