Snails can be found in the forest, ponds and the ocean. They belong to a group of animals with a soft body called molluscs (mollusks) which are related to oysters, clams, and other shellfish. Characteristically they have soft, unsegmented bodies. Their soft bodies are protected by a hard shell. Snails are gastropods, which in latin means, gastro for stomach and pod for foot or just "a belly footed animal". The body of the snail is long, moist and slimy. When the snail is disturbed, it withdraws or pulls itself back into its shell. The snail also retreats into its shell and seals the entrance in dry weather and winter to protect its body from drying up. A snail is most active at night and on cloudy days. My neighbor's dog alerted me to this, very active whitelip snail at the edge of a vernal pool.
A snails "eyes" are on the tip of its tentacles.. The snail has two pairs of tentacles on its head. One pair is longer than the other pair. The eyes, which can perceive light but not images are on the longer pair. The shorter pair is used for smelling and feeling its way around.
The snail moves by creeping on a flat "foot" underneath the body. The band of muscles in the foot contract and expand and this create a kind of rippling movement that pushes the snail forward. The "foot" has a special gland that produces a slimy mucus to make a slippery track. The slime comes out from the front and hardens when it comes into contact with air.
Snails are hermaphrodites. Each individual is both male and female but they still must fertalize each other. After mating, each snail will go search for soft ground to dig and lay its eggs. The eggs are concealed with a mixture of soil and mucus and then covered with excrement.
The first thing that a newly hatched snail does is to find food. A snail has a radula in its mouth for grinding up its food. This radula is like a rough tongue, something like a file with rows of tiny teeth which it uses to scrap off leaves and flowers to eat. Snails eat mostly living plants as well as decaying plants.
As the snail grows, its shell grows too. The new shell is added at the opening of the shell. The part of the shell the immature snail was born with, ends up in the middle of the spiral.
This Whitelip Snail (Neohelix albolabris) is the largest, native, land dwelling snail in New England.
Photos by N. Pizzo AMC Staff Naturalist