The beginning of our Pacific Northwest winter rains have brought snails out of hiding. This morning two of them crossed our path, not the usual Pacific Sideband dark brown variety we're used to, but lighter coloured Terrestrial Land Snails with light pinkish-purple bodies. Snails are associated with full moons in many culture and their appearance this morning coincides with the October full moon, the Hunter's Moon.
Snails are one of the earliest animals in the world, evolving over 600 million years ago. They have adapted and survived many conditions. Tens of thousands of different kinds of snails live throughout the world in many different habitats including forest and mountains, wetlands, deserts and freshwater or saltwater. They are an important part of their ecosystem both as feeders of decaying plants and as prey for various creatures including snakes, toads, birds, ducks, beetles, caterpillars and even other, larger, snails and slugs.
Snails belong to the Gastropod family which includes land and marine snails as well as slugs. The name Gastropod comes from the Greek words gastros meaning stomach and pods meaning foot. Snails are classified as mollusks because they have hard shells protecting their bodies. They are terrestrial and aquatic, living on land and in water, both fresh and salt. The Gastropod family is one of the largest and most diverse of the animal kingdom with some 40,000 species. Because of their vast numbers - ranking second behind insects - they are found in most places in the world and in most cultures.
In Africa and Central America snails are a lunar and fertility symbol. In ancient Peru the re-appearance of land snails at the beginning of the rainy season were an ecological marker of the change of seasons. The ancient Mayan Earth God Pauahtun, God N, emerges from a spiral shell which takes its form from either land or marine snails. To the Aztec the snail was the moon god and his shell was his protection. Meso Americans associated the snail with the wind. To the ancient Egyptians the snail was the symbol of infinity.
Because the snail was linked to the cycles of the sun and the moon, it became a fertility symbol in many cultures. Its horns and its slimy body were symbols of both male and female sex organs and conception while its shell was like a womb. The Greek poet Hesiod, between 740 and 670 BC, wrote that snails, or House-carriers, signified the time to harvest by climbing the plant stalks from the Earth to escape Pleiades, a star cluster associated with the agricultural seasons of time.
In Christian symbolism the snail symbolizes the lazy or sinful person but it is also a symbol of birth and resurrection. Snails seal themselves in their shells during the winter or dry periods and re-emerge in the spring - like the stone being rolled away from the tomb of Christ and of the Resurrection.
Snails are known for slowly, but surely, reaching their destinations through determination and patience. They represent awareness, ability to interpret dreams and other realities. They are also known as lunar creatures because of their ability to hide themselves in their shells or reveal themselves - like the waxing and waning of the moon. Since the snail carries its "house" with it, it is also a symbol of self-sufficiency. Snail shells are spirals and are symbolic of expanding consciousness or going within to seek inner answers. The shells are also associated with the whirlwind, labyrinth, winding paths, orbits of heavenly bodies, the ram's horn and coiled snakes. Spirals also symbolize continuity, evolutions, expansion, cycles, mysteries and the cycle of death and decay.
Snails are mostly active at night, and in the early morning. They leave behind a trail of mucous as they move, this mucous allows them to move across different types of terrain. When dry weather comes snails seal their shell openings to a solid surface and either bury themselves in soil or find a protected spot. They remain in a state of hibernation, or dormancy, until it rains.
Snails can't hear so they use their sense of touch to interact with each other and their sense of smell to find food. Snail's have four long tentacles on their head, which are used to feel. These tentacles have rounded tips called chemoreceptors that are primarily odor-sensing and allow the snail to smell its environment. The top two tentacles have eye spots on the tips with which the snail can detect movement.
Although snails are hermaphrodites - able to produce eggs and sperm - they must mate in order to fertilize each other's eggs. The average life span of a snail is up to 15 years however some species can live to 25 years.