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Snails are tiny mollusks that can be found in water or on land. Some of them aren't so tiny, unless you are comparing them to that giant squid that used to eat sailing vessels.

Water snails can be found in streams, ponds, lakes, oceans, pet stores, and other people's aquaria. Many people who keep tropical fish will buy a snail or two because they think they keep the aquarium clean. Well, they do eat algae, but their waste products fall to the bottom of the aquarium and add to the contamination therein. Further, if you have one snail in your aquarium, you will soon have many snails. I don't yet know how they accomplish that.

If you want to find snails in the environment, you can find water snails on the bottom of streams or ponds, and dredge them with nets. Sometimes they can be picked from water plants. Aquatic snails have gills. Land snails have lungs.

Land snails can be found feeding on plants almost anywhere. Look for them in gardens in the early morning or early evening. If you plant seeds of something you dearly love, you may find that snails will eat the very first leaves, thereby killing that plant. They seem to be psychic, in that they can determine what plants are your favorites. Snails are apparently alcoholics, because if you put a small bowl of beer out in the garden, the snails will gather for a drink, and fall into the bowl and drown. That doesn't speak very well for their intelligence, does it?

Here in the Great Central Valley of California, we have an inordinate number of snails. They were brought here on purpose by really dumb people who thought we could eat them. The snails that most of us find outdoors are not the same type that are used for escargot. Of course not; escargot are expensive. You could probably buy a new car for the amount of money you'd spend for a case of escargot. Garden snails are free. They are probably tough, and taste like icky stuff. Probably it's not a good idea to eat garden snails because so many have been exposed to those poison pellets called "snail bait."

We will have to find out what good purpose snails serve. Maybe they are good pets. Water snails can be kept in any wide-mouthed jar or aquarium filled with pond water and many water plants. Three snails for every gallon of water make a balanced aquarium. Water snails will eat algae from the sides of the aquarium and some water plants. You can watch them move across the glass and see their mouthparts work as they eat algae from the sides.

Land snails can be kept on damp peat moss or soil in a glass jar or terrarium. One snail per quart container is best for balance. Land snails will eat many kinds of leaves. With a pencil, gently touch the eyes at the ends of the extended stalks of a snail. The stalks will retract. That doesn't sound very nice. I wouldn't want somebody touching my eyes with a pencil. Maybe a gentle tap with a feather would be better.

Touch the snail in various other places and observe what happens. If the snail is overly disturbed, it will retreat into its shell.

Now prepare a board by boring 3 or 4 holes in it. The largest hole should be able to accommodate the snail's shell easily. The smaller holes should accommodate the snail's body, but not the shell. Place the board in the path of a moving snail, and see how the snail is able to select the right-sized hole to travel through.

Set two snails near each other and make a noise by ringing a small bell. Observe the behavior of the snails. This experiment can be repeated using other animals such as fish (use a cricket-clicker in and out of the water), insects, amphibians, and so on.

Let your snails climb a board, and observe whether or not the snails always climb upward. When a snail reaches the top of the board, turn the board over, and observe its climb again. Keep the board vertical, and test by rotating it either 45 degrees or 90 degrees each time.

Next, tilt the board various degrees to see what effect the angle of tilt has upon the direction the snail travels. For each test, record observations and draw conclusions.

Place a heating unit or lamp with the bulb turned away from the interior near one end of your snail enclosure. Put two snails near the heat source, two more half the length of the enclosure, and two more as far from the heat source as possible. Observe whether the snails move toward or away
from the heat.

Other animals can be observed in a terrarium in a similar way.

Water snails can be tested by placing a water snail in a can of water, lighting a candle, and holding the candle beneath the snail. Observe the snail's reaction.

Do not leave the candle in one position too long, for the heat might injure the snail. Remember, these experiments are not designed to torture a helpless creature; they are meant to teach us how animals adapt to the natural changes in their environments.


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