In Snail Saga, Pt. 1, I set out to purchase a pet and wound up with sixteen Ukrainian mail-order snails, all in induced hibernation for their cross-Atlantic voyage. When last I left you, I was staring down at them lined up on the counter of my grandparents’ cottage (read: cabin in the woods) in rural Michigan, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my snail surplus.
When confronted with a dozen or so unexpected snails, one faces questions of moral principle one never thought one would. For example: What is the ethical way to rid oneself of fifteen snails? I couldn’t release them into the wild, not when I spent summers getting paid a penny for every stalk of garlic mustard I pulled, overseen by environmentally conscious parents who assured me that invasive species are no laughing matter.
Tossing the excess into the nearby river seemed a touch too callous, considering that I had ordered and bankrolled their emigration from Europe in the first place, not to mention that if they didn’t drown, I would be seeding the mighty Clam River with Ukrainian mollusks. (And the Clam River, if we’re being honest, has enough mollusks of its own.)
Any other methods of snailocide were a little too hands-on. I’m not unwilling to kill an animal when it needs to be done—the curious incident of the cancerous squirrel at the housewarming party taught me that a few years ago (on an unrelated note, “excuse me, can I borrow your shovel” is a great way to meet the neighbors). But this was not a case of a diseased rodent suffering on the driveway, besieged by a legion of flies and posing a potential danger to local pets and children; this was a case of sixteen tiny invertebrates, curled into calcium cocoons of their own making, sleeping on my grandma’s cottage counter and blissfully unaware that they were now five thousand miles from home.
I have an overclocked responsibility processor at the best of times, and while I found it difficult to imagine adding over a dozen more minute liabilities, the problem I faced was not the sixteen snails; it was what the sixteen snails would enable.
You see, most land snails—Caucasotachea vindobonensis included—are simultaneous hermaphrodites, meaning that they possess both male and female sex organs and can reproduce with any other adult member of their species. As an aside, they do so by stabbing prospective partners with what is essentially a home-grown bone knife called a love dart. The love dart, by the way, does not enable sperm transfer or anything like that; it’s just foreplay. (BDSM, it turns out, actually stands for bondage, domination, sadism, and mollusks.)
So not only could each one of my snails potentially mate with every other snail, they would also be—as any gardner knows—very good at it. Caucasotachea vindobonensis lays thirty to seventy eggs per clutch. Assuming a worst-case scenario where all of my snails fertilize each other and each lays an average number of eggs, I would be able to open my own escargot-exclusive food cart in about a month.
And yet, even with the weight of hundreds of potential snail babies in my future, the only thing I could do in that moment was reach out, take up the snail with the prettiest shell, and gently place it in the shallow bath of lightly steaming water. Hundreds of potential snail babies may have been in my future, but these sixteen were very much in my present—-and I just wanted one to wake up.
None of them would.
I cycled all sixteen through the plate of warm water, altering strategies (Shell up? Shell down? Warmer water? Hot water?) before, resigned, making some extremely data-consuming wifi-less Google searches. In about fifteen minutes, I had some new snail facts to add to my mental rolodex:
- “Wake up hibernating land snails”: Snails begin hibernation when conditions are too cold or dry. Ergo, making conditions less cold and dry should encourage them to wake up. (Hence the warm water thing.)
- “What is film over opening of snail’s shell”: It’s called an epiphragm, and it’s a mucus membrane that snails create in preparation for hibernation. (So at least some of the snails were hibernating (i.e. alive) at one point.)
- “How to tell if snail is dead”: Things will begin to smell a bit… fishy. (Har har, but actually.)
Six survived the initial smell test. The other ten—odorless from a distance but pungent on proximity—I rewrapped in their styrofoam and repacked into the box from which they came, morphed from pilgrim ship into cardboard coffin. I placed the lucky half-dozen on the moist soil of the terrarium I had carefully carted up from Ann Arbor and, after five days of qualitative interviews and microbrewery pizza in Traverse City, equally carefully carted back downstate, now carrying four (another two betrayed by the olfactory nerve over the weekend) unmoving mollusks.
One of them did wake, briefly, in the morning after its short bath. It scooted quite leisurely about six inches before curling back up into its shell and staying there, permanently. Its proactiveness earned it the honor of being the only snail of the bunch to receive a name. I called it Carl Sagan, the name I had planned on giving my snail, back when there was only one. I still have its shell.
I had all of the final four’s shells, actually, until about a week ago. I could make a grand statement about how keeping dead snails (they did, in time, all turn out to be very dead) on my desk for five months was a metaphor for my inability to let go of my mistakes or a some kind of nightcap for my Ukrainian snail adventure, but the truth is much more mundane and much less melodramatic, as it tends to be. I was just too lazy to deal with it.
And I guess, if I’m really being honest, buried somewhere beneath that was the hope that if I waited long enough, maybe Carl Sagan would wake up on its own.