Ode to a Snail s.zaynab kamoonpuri
Slug or Snail Slow you trail The slimy path you leave upon bark or rail or along my pail Glue from your tail? Ah bind my mail? Be my pet not pet peeve Don’t crawl up my sleeve. Go mark some leaves. Don’t glue my nail! How do I guess your emotions? You never smile or wail
The recent overcast, drippy weather – a rare phenomenon during this season in Israel between Passover and Shavuot – apparently was planned in cahoots with the snail lobby in the Weather Parliament. When the heat and summery dryness arrive (sooner than usual lately, it seems), the snails will have to protect themselves by going into summer hibernation. So, each extension of rainy and cold weather makes them extremely happy. This week we shall dedicate a few words to this creature who is very involved (sometimes overly so) in Chubeza’s operation, accompanying us from the very first plant.
Snails are invertebrates, meaning that they do not possess or develop a vertebral column. Instead of actual teeth, they sport radula on their head, a kind of serrated grater used to rasp food particles. Additionally, their heads don two pair of tentacles and a pair of cheeks. Their bodies contain one “muscular ventral (flat and muscular) foot” used for movement. This foot is covered by epithelial tissue secreting sticky mucus which immediately dries in the air, protecting the foot as it moves. (So, can a snail crawl across a blade without getting cut? Maybe, but don’t try it at home.) This muscular mucus-texture foot helps the snail latch onto smooth surfaces, to crawl, and even swim. Above this wonder foot, the internal organs, including gonads, intestines, heart and esophagus, create an organic mass guarded by a protective layer that covers the foot and internal organs called the mantle. The mantle secretes mucus matter which crystalizes, eventually becoming a shell. This shell is like a peel or external spiral corpse covered with calcium carbonate and aragonite crystals associated with the organic matrix. It protects our little friend from predators and provides refuge to protect him/her from dryness, as the shell is almost completely waterproof. In several types of snails called slugs, the shell straightened or totally disappeared. Most snails live in the sea, while others prefer sweet water or simply dry land.
The snails we encounter in Chubeza’s field are, of course, land snails. Similar to other invertebrates, the snail’s simple body system cannot regulate body temperature, thus s/he is affected by the surrounding temperatures. The snail’s range of temperatures to be active is between 7-28 degrees (Celsius) and 75-90% precipitation. In hot or dry weather, a snail can die, thus the local snails are mainly active in wintertime and go into hibernation during summer. At that point they close off the entrance of their shells with dried mucus (epiphragm) that hardens into tough skin. This snail-made mucus door prevents predators from harming them during hibernation and keeps them warm and cozy all winter. The epiphragm can also glue the snail to a surface, like a shady wall, rock or tree trunk. In hibernation, a snail’s heart slows from about 36 beats per minute to only three or four, and oxygen use is reduced to one-fiftieth of normal.
With the first rains, the hardened mucus melts and the snail is released from its grasp. He/she awakens, eats and eats and…reproduces. The snails are hermaphrodites, meaning they all have both male and female reproductive organs that produce both eggs and sperm. When they copulate with each other, they each contribute a sperm to fertilize the other’s eggs. This usually occurs 2-6 times per season. After a “pregnancy” of approximately two weeks, s/he lays around 80 white eggs in a damp, underground nest approximately 5 cm deep where the eggs will hatch over summertime. Here, too, the rain is of importance: if the soil is dry, the snail will not be able to dig a nest in which to lay her/his eggs in wintertime. In 2-3 years, these snails will be mature enough to have their own little families. They eat plants and any type of organic matter, making them very difficult to have around in the field. When we have a serious snail attack, we manually gather them and move them off the field to the green wild areas where they’ll find themselves other greens to nosh on.
But if you are not farmers and the snails do not threaten your garden, snails are in fact a sweet and fascinating little thing. Apparently over this Corona year, a new trend developed in Israel: people started adopting snails as pets (Hebrew). We were actually able to assist in such an adoption act when one wintery day in March we received an email from Larissa, a client from Jerusalem.
Hi Chubeza! Last box, we received a cute tiny snail in our lettuce and decided to keep him as a pet. I read that they are social animals, so I was wondering if you might be able to send another one or two in our next box. I’m sure this must be the strangest request you’ve ever received, and I totally understand if you don’t have the time to go digging around for snails. If you do have the time, Gary the snail would be extremely happy. Thank you so much, Larissa
When I told my daughter Talya about this fun email, she immediately volunteered to find the perfect friend for Gary. And so I responded:
Hello Larissa, Indeed, this is the strangest, and also most delightful, cute and heartwarming request I’ve ever received. Talya, my daughter, volunteered happily for the mission. She’ll look for snails for you and will take care of him/her (it’s tricky with snails) until your next box, hopefully we’ll be able to send Gary some company soon. Gary is really lucky to have landed in your lettuce… Thanks for your letter and request! ???? Bat-Ami
So Talya went out to seek The Friend. Several days later, she found a tiny little snail which she tended with true devotion for a few more days till Larissa’s Chubeza delivery day. With fanfare, Snail #2 was sent off to keep Gary company and be his best friend forever. Larissa, now the doting mom of two snails, sent us a photo of Gary and Albert in their new abode.
May we all have a good week, one of life and hope, and may we learn from the snails that sometimes one needs to limit oneself, to move a notch down, curl up and have perfect faith that the rain will return, the wheat will grow again in the fields, the seal on the shell will melt, and life will prevail.
From all of us at Chubeza
WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?
Monday: Parsley root/leeks, lettuce, garlic, beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes/carrots, parsley/coriander/dill, cauliflower/peas/broccoli, Swiss chard, onions.
Large box, in addition: Kohlrabi/fennel, zucchini, kale
FRUIT BOXES: Banana/lemons, avocados, clementinas, oranges, red apples.
Wednesday: Kohlrabi/fennel/cauliflower, lettuce, garlic, beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, parsley/coriander/dill, Swiss chard, onions. A gift for all: kale
Large box, in addition: Parsley root, zucchini, Romaine hearts
FRUIT BOXES: Banana/lemons, avocados/red apples, clementinas, oranges, red grapefruit.