En la alameda
un manantial recita
su canto entre las hierbas.
Y el caracol, pacífico
burgués de la vereda,
ignorado y humilde,
el paisaje contempla.
(Federico García Lorca, Los encuentros
de un caracol aventurero, 1918)
Snails are unique and peaceful animals of the group of the invertebrates and the subgroup of the gastropod molluscs (invertebrates with a shell). They are different from cephalopod molluscs in the fact that the latter do not have an external shell (animals like squids or cuttlefish), but we must not mistake them with crustaceans such as prawns or similar animals. Despite their size, as indicated by García Lorca, they are «ignored and humble», fascinating animals when they stretch their body and reach with the dark points at the end of the antennae, that no one recognises as their eyes.
After raining, we usually fin them on leaves. A Spanish traditional song says «Caracol, col, col, saca los cuernos al sol» (snail, snail, snail, bring your horns out in the sun), reflecting the way they stretch their appendices. This is one of the magical images we remember from our childhood, when we played with them and made them race each other (an almost impossible feat, because they are masterful crawlers but lack a sense of direction). Later, cuisine marked another step in our relationship with snails. We remember the asphodels covered in snails and the baskets to catch them after the rain, both dark and fair snails. We remember walking around the Central Market in Valencia, where you can see nets full of snails with rosemary leaves to purge and flavour them…
Our activity today was prepared to discover and enjoy nature creating a container to observe these animals: a temporary manor that will copy their natural environment as much as possible. After some time, we must be good and return the snails to where we found them.
Materials and tools
—A large glass jar
—Gauze. If you use paper, you will have to change it after it gets wet or it will break
—A big rubber band
—Some fresh leaves that we will have to replace from time to time (they love orange tree leaves)
—Some snails from any garden or field
We put some wet dirt in the glass jar and add leaves and small plants to make the container more cozy. If we put some orange tree leaves, the snails will quickly eat them. Then we introduce the snails and cover the top with the gauze, using the rubber band to fasten it. We spray mineral or osmosis water on the gauze with the atomiser to freshen the inside and keep the ideal humidity for snails.
We can watch the snails through the glass and observe their movements: they are faster than you think! We must clean the jar each time we introduce new leaves. Although these humble creatures are clean and easy to take care of, we will enjoy their presence for no more than two weeks, to observe their habits before returning them to nature.
The members of the Education Unit of the Botanic Garden of the University of Valencia are Mª José Carrau, Pepa Rey and Olga Ibàñez.
© Mètode 88, 2015/16.