The above-average rainfall this year has been a bonanza for the garden snail (Cornu aspersum, they were previously classified under the name Helix aspersa). More and more readers of this column have commented about their ever-growing numbers.
Here are some interesting facts about them:
They creep along at a few inches per minute aided by the release of mucus that reduces friction between their flat muscular foot and the ground, which leaves behind a silvery trail. Placed at the end of two tentacles on top of their head are little dark eyes, which resemble periscopes on a submarine; they see dark and light and perhaps can distinguish objects but are incapable of focusing.
The two lower tentacles are olfactory sense organs. This terrestrial single lung air-breathing gastropod is a relatively small mollusk, only reaching about 1 inch in length with four or five spirals in its shell.
Other mollusk can grow much larger, like the red abalone, which can reach a foot in length and weigh several pounds.
Snails are mostly a nocturnal creature but can be seen in the morning hours if there is dew or during the day when it rains.
They eat all sorts of live and dead vegetation with their radula, a structure inside the mouth that has rows of macroscopic chitin teeth. Similar to a bastard file for woodworking, the radula scrapes the food before it enters the snail’s esophagus.
During the warmth of daytime, it retracts in its shell to conserve moisture and to protect itself from predators like ants. It covers its shell opening with an epiphragm made of mucus. They can hibernate in winter or periods of drought and can live as long as five years.
As any gardener will tell you, especially after waking up to the sight of a garden half eaten, these mollusks flourish in the Mediterranean climate of the Central Coast and for a good reason; it’s believed that this snail species originated from the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions. For tips on controlling these snails, visit the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) website at ipm.ucanr.edu/index.html.
There are approximately 242 species of snails and slugs in California that are native and about 22 non-native snail and 17 exotic slug species. It’s believed that the garden snail was brought to California by the French in the 1800s for escargot. Raised for thousands of years, snails have been an important protein source in many parts of the old world. However, I wouldn’t go out in the garden and start harvesting these snails for human consumption, as careful preparation is required.
This type of snail farming is called Heliciculture, and it continues to evolve. Believe it or not, snail eggs/caviar has become a luxury food in many parts of Europe and is typically served on canapés. It’s called Imperial Escargot Caviar and sales for around $100 for a 30-gram jar — definitely out of my price range.
Closer to home, another type of mollusk is raised at The Abalone Farm located in Cayucos. Their abalone is delicious and as tasty as the wild ones along the Northern California coastline.
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I would like to alert you to a series of Sunday talks on climate change at the First Presbyterian Church, 981 Marsh Street, in San Luis Obispo through this month. I will be speaking on the effects of global warming on our local weather this at 11 a.m. Sunday.