Garden snail (Helix aspersa)

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Garden snail
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Garden snail fact file

Garden snail description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumMollusca
ClassGastropoda
OrderStylommatophora
FamilyHelicidae
GenusHelix (1)

A very common and widespread species, the garden snail is the typical snail you will find in a British garden (1). The shell of the garden snail is generally spherical in shape with a short spire and a 'wrinkled' surface (3). It is pale brown or yellow in colour (3), and is marked with a number of broken dark bands that give the shell a blotched appearance (2). The thickened lip around the large opening, or 'aperture', of the shell is white in colour (2).

Size
Shell height: 25 - 35 mm (2)
Shell width: 25 - 40 mm (2)
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Garden snail biology

Although the garden snail is mainly nocturnal, it will emerge during the day after rain. It moves by means of a muscular foot; the mucus secreted by the foot aids with movement and leaves a tell-tale track behind. It feeds on a range of plant matter and can be serious pests of gardens (4). This snail has a strong homing instinct and spends the day, often in large groups, beneath stones and other structures. It hibernates through the winter in similar locations (5).

The garden snail is a hermaphrodite, meaning that it possesses both male and female reproductive organs; although it is able to self-fertilise, most snails mate with another snail (4). Reproduction takes place in early summer and begins with pairing and courtship. After a period in which the members of the pair caress each other with their tentacles, each snail pierces the skin of its partner with a calcareous 'love dart', a spiny projection which is covered in mucus. The function of this love dart is unclear, but it is thought that the mucus may act to improve the survival of sperm. Mating then takes place; each snail inserts its penis into its partner at the same time (6). The snails separate, and the sperm is stored internally until the eggs are ripe. After the eggs have been fertilised, the snails dig pits in the soil in which to lay the eggs (5). Hatchlings have translucent, delicate shells (4).

The garden snail is edible, and snail farming is currently a booming cottage industry in Britain. This species has also been used for centuries in traditional medicine, for example, broth made from the mucus was used to treat sore throats (7).

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Garden snail range

The garden snail is found throughout most of lowland Britain (1). Elsewhere, it has a wide distribution, and is found across the Mediterranean area, in parts of western Europe, North Africa, and Turkey (2). It has also been widely introduced and has become established in some areas of the USA (4).

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Garden snail habitat

The garden snail is often associated with humans, and can be found in parks and gardens. It also inhabits woods, hedgerows and dunes (3).

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Garden snail status

The garden snail is common and widespread (2).

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Garden snail threats

The garden snail is not currently threatened.

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Garden snail conservation

Conservation action has not been targeted at the garden snail.

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Find out more

Discover more about invertebrates and their conservation:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Calcareous
Containing free calcium carbonate, chalky.
Hermaphrodite
Possessing both male and female sex organs.
Hibernates
Hibernation is a winter survival strategy characteristic of some mammals in which an animal’s metabolic rate slows down and a state of deep sleep is attained. Whilst hibernating, animals survive on stored reserves of fat that they have accumulated in summer. In insects, the correct term for hibernation is ‘diapause’, a temporary pause in development and growth. Any stage of the lifecycle (eggs, larvae, pupae or adults) may enter diapause, which is typically associated with winter.
Nocturnal
Active at night.
Self-fertilise
Fusion of male and female sex cells (gametes) from one individual. In contrast, in cross-fertilisation, two different individuals are involved.
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References

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (March, 2003)
    http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/
  2. Pfleger, V. and Chatfield, J. (1983) A guide to snails of Britain and Europe. The Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd., London.
  3. Kerney, M.P. and Cameron, R.A.D. (1979) A field guide to the land snails of Britain and north west Europe. William Collins Sons and Co. Ltd., London.
  4. Brown garden snail: University of Florida Department of Entomology and Nematology (March, 2003)
    http://creatures.ifas.ufl.edu/misc/gastro/brown_garden_snail.htm
  5. Janus, H. (1982) The Illustrated Guide to Molluscs. Harold Starke Ltd., London.
  6. Koene, J.M. and Chase, R. (1998) Changes in the reproductive system of the snail Helix aspersa caused by mucus from the love dart. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 201: 2313-2319.
  7. Buczacki, S. (2002) Fauna Britannica. Hamlyn, London.
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Image credit

Garden snail  
Garden snail

© lauriecampbell.com

Laurie Campbell Photography
Hestia
Paxton
Berwick-upon-Tweed
TD15 1TE
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 1289 386 736
Fax: +44 (0) 1289 386 746
info@lauriecampbell.com
http://www.lauriecampbell.com

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