|Garden snail (Helix aspersa) on Limonium|
informal group Sigmurethra
(O. F. Müller, 1774)
Helix aspersa, known by the common name garden snail, is a species of land snail, a terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusc in the family Helicidae, the typical snails. This species is one of the best-known of all terrestrial molluscs.
The species has been placed in the genus Helix, in all sources between 1774 and 1988, and in most sources until quite recently. But in a number of sources since 1990, this species has been placed in one of three other genera, depending on the classification in relation to Helix aperta and on the accepted interpretation of the ICZN Code's Article 1.3.2 for the Cornu problem. For those who regard Cornu as available the name can be Cornu aspersum (if they do not like to classify it in Helix). Those who do not regard Cornu as available, and do not like to classify the species in Helix, can select between Cantareus aspersus (this is the option for those who classify Helix aperta in the same genus as Helix aspersa, as was done by Italian research teams and others) and Cryptomphalus aspersus (for those who like to classify the two species in different genera, as was done by Ukrainian and Russian research teams).
Although this species is edible, it is often regarded simply as a pest in gardens and to agriculture, especially where it has been accidentally introduced. It is native to the Mediterranean area and western Europe, but has been spread by humans, both deliberately and accidentally, to numerous areas all over the world.
It comprises a set of north African endemic forms and subspecies that were described at the beginning of the 20th century, on the basis of shell characteristics. The most common one, Cornu aspersum aspersum (synonym Helix aspersa aspersa), has become very abundant in all human-disturbed habitats in regions with a Mediterranean, temperate and even subtropical climate.
Cornu aspersum is a typically anthropochorous species; in other words this species has been spread to various geographical areas deliberately and/or accidentally by humans. It is nowadays widespread throughout the world, and occurs in many zones that have climates differing from the original Mediterranean climate in which it first occurred. Its presence is reported on the American continents, as well as in Australia and in Asia. Because of this fact, the most likely explanation for resemblances between populations located on either side of the Mediterranean would be passive transport due to human activities. Transfers involving this species may have started in the Neolithic revolution (around 8500 BP). In the present time these introductions continue to occur, and in some cases give rise to catastrophic destruction of habitat.
It is very widely introduced and naturalised elsewhere in the world and its non-native distribution include other parts of Europe: Bohemia in the Czech Republic since 2008; southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand, North America and southern South America. It was introduced to California as a food animal in the 1850s and is now a notorious agricultural pest there, especially in citrus groves. Many areas have quarantines established for preventing the importation of the snail in plant matter.
The adult bears a hard, thin calcareous shell 25–40 mm in diameter and 25–35 mm high, with four or five whorls. The shell is somewhat variable in color and shade but is generally dark brown or chestnut with yellow stripes, flecks, or streaks.
The body is soft and slimy, brownish-grey, and is retracted entirely into the shell when the animal is inactive or threatened. During dry and cold weather, the aperture of the shell is sealed with a thin membrane of dried mucus which is known as an epiphragm, which helps the snail retain moisture. The resultant quiescent periods are known as aestivation and hibernation respectively. When hibernating, Helix aspersa avoids ice formation by altering the osmotic components of its blood (or haemolymph), and can survive temperatures as low as -5°C, or
23°F. During aestivation, the mantle collar has the unique ability to change its permeability to water. In combination with an osmoregulatory mechanism similar to that seen during hibernation this allows Helix aspersa to survive several months of aestivation.
During times of activity the head and foot emerge. The head bears four tentacles, the upper two of which have eye-like light sensors, and the lower two of which are smaller, tactile and olfactory sensory structures. The tentacles can be retracted into the head. The mouth is located beneath the tentacles, and contains a chitinous radula which the snail uses to scrape and manipulate food particles.
The garden snail is a herbivore and has a wide range of host plants (It feeds on plants only). It feeds on numerous types of fruit trees, vegetable crops, garden flowers, and cereals. It is a food source for many other animals, including small mammals, many bird species, lizards, frogs, centipedes, predatory insects, and predatory terrestrial snails.
Like other Pulmonata, Helix aspera is a hermaphrodite, producing both male and female gametes. Reproduction is usually sexual, although self-fertilisation can occur. During a mating session of several hours, two snails exchange sperm. The garden snail uses love darts during mating.
Parasites of Helix aspersa include:
The snail's muscular foot contracts to move the animal, and secretes mucus to facilitate locomotion by reducing friction against the substrate. It moves at a top speed of 1.3 centimetres per second (47 meters per hour or ~50 yards per hour), and has a strong homing instinct, readily returning to a regular hibernation site.
The species is known as an agricultural and garden pest, an edible delicacy, and occasionally a household pet. In French cuisine, it is known as petit gris, and is served for instance in Escargot a la Bordelaise. The practice of rearing snails for food is known as heliciculture. For purposes of cultivation, the snails are kept in a dark place in a wired cage with dry straw or dry wood. Coppiced wine-grape vines are often used for this purpose. During the rainy period the snails come out of hibernation and release most of their mucus onto the dry wood/straw. The snails are then prepared for cooking. Their texture when cooked is slightly chewy.
There are a variety of snail-control measures that gardeners and farmers use in an attempt to reduce damage to valuable plants. Traditional pesticides are still used, as are many less toxic control options such as concentrated garlic or wormwood solutions. Copper metal is also a snail repellent, and thus a copper band around the trunk of a tree will prevent snails from climbing up and reaching the foliage and fruit.
The decollate snail (Rumina decollata) will capture and eat garden snails, and because of this it has sometimes been introduced as a biological pest control agent. However, this is not without problems, as the decollate snail is just as likely to attack and devour other species of gastropods that may represent a valuable part of the native fauna of the region.
Recently, Helix aspersa has gained some popularity as the chief ingredient in skin creams and gels (crema/gel de caracol) sold within the Latino community in the USA. These creams are promoted as being suitable for use on wrinkles, scars, dry skin, and acne. Since 2013, a snail farmer offers the Snail slime certified organic by ECOCERT.
A screen of the secretions that the Helix aspersa snail produces under stress, to find if it possesses pharmacological properties, has yielded skin-regenerative properties. Some of the cellular and molecular effects underlying this observation are: the secretions contain antioxidant Superoxide dismutase and Glutathione S-transferase (GSTs) activities. In addition, the secretions stimulate fibroblast proliferation and rearrangement of the actin cytoskeleton. Additional mechanisms involved in the regenerative effect of the snail secretions include the stimulation of extracellular matrix assembly and the regulation of metalloproteinase activities. Together, these effects provide an array of molecular mechanisms underlying the secretions’ induced cellular regeneration and postulate its use in regeneration of wounded tissue.
This article incorporates CC-BY-2.0 text from reference.
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- Since 2013, a snail farmer and provider for the United States of America USA Snails
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- Speed of a Snail
- Velocity Measurement Units Conversion
- Attia J. 2004. Behavioural Rhythms of Land Snails in the Field. Biological Rhythm Research, 35: 35-41. Abstract.
-  Andes Natural Skin Care LLC |date=March 2006
- Since 2013, a snail farmer offers the Snail slime 
-  |date=January 2008. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology. Vol. 21 ISSN: 1660-5527. Molecular basis for the regenerative properties of a secretion of the mollusk Cryptomphalus aspersa.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Helix aspersa.|
- brown garden snail on the UF / IFAS Featured Creatures Web site
- Canada Agriculture Fact Sheet
- BBC Info Page
- Pesticides Database - Chemical Toxicity Studies
- Extreme Close-Up Video of the North American Garden Snail
- University of California Pest Management Guidelines: Brown Garden Snail
- Zachi Evenor, A video showing a garden snail (Helix aspersa / Cornu aspersum) in action, YouTube, November 9, 2013