There is a snail under a cup in my back garden. Well, technically it is in the snail hospital isolation unit. My husband was crashing around in the garden sorting out rubbish to take to the dump. Like most humans, he simply got on with the job and didn’t think twice about the snails who had taken advantage of the new habitat provided by some old panels from our bathroom. They were snuggled up between the folds of rubbish when, without warning, they were hoisted aloft and dragged out to the waiting car.
As I arrived on the scene I noticed a couple of casualties with broken shells and picked them up gently trying not to damage their fragile bodies further. Once these were back in the garden I searched through the remaining rubbish finding another five or so who had survived in tact. As I brought these back to the garden I noticed that the two injured snails were wandering about with their broken shells gradually falling away behind them like the dance of the seven veils. It seemed a shame that although the snails themselves were fine, without a shell they were basically just meals on wheels. So I wondered if I protected the snails would they be able to mend their own shells and survive. Shells are after all living organisms which are able to grow with the snail over time. So if they can grow, can they also mend?
I found the nearest thing to hand to protect the snails and put them both under a large cup with a couple of lettuce leaves for sustenance. The next morning the little one had gone. A small section of his shell remained under the cup and I figured he had either discharged himself or got eaten, probably the latter. The isolation unit was not so isolated after all. I moved the remaining snail, which was by now just a naked, jelly blob, to a completely different part of the garden where no slugs were present. I knew he was vulnerable, so I decided to improve the snail hospital accommodation with a sense of urgency. I found a cutlery tray which had holes in the bottom and filled that with damp soil, in case he wanted to bury himself during the recovery process. I put this inside the old ‘accidental pond’ tray and put some stones inside for hiding behind and some food; lettuce and celery. I found in a charity shop an elastic cover for baby prams with small holes, which would keep the predators out but let the air in. The new improved snail hospital was finally ready.
I lifted the cup to find that an enormous slug with Houdini like skill had managed to slide himself under the lip and was now tucking into the snail with gusto. It was too late to save the patient and to be honest I had wondered whether this poor naked snail could ever make a shell from nothing; so I allowed nature’s recycling system to take its course. The slug was so enormous by the time it had finished he sat in the lavender pot for some time looking not unlike Jabba the Hutt.
So here I was with a fully functioning snail hospital and no patients. Then, as luck would have it I found a small snail with a cracked shell lying close to the back door. With this casualty it was possible to push the parts of his shell back together quite easily, so I felt sure that he would make a full recovery. I admitted him as an in-patient and put him down in the soft soil for comfort. He immediately decided to climb out, so for his own good I put on the stretchy cover and left him out in the garden.
The next morning I had trouble finding the snail. He wasn’t in the soft soil, or behind the stone. Some of the lettuce had been eaten, which was a good sign. Then I saw him curled up in a small dip at the top of the tray, in what must have felt like a secure spot. He stayed there for a couple more days and I didn’t want to pick him up in case I broke his shell again. Looking closely I could see that the cracks were starting to mend. After four days I decided to lift the lid and let him take his chances. Just as well I did because that night we had a rainstorm and the hospital was flooded. The dip at the top of the tray was awash with rain water and no snail would of survived that. I tipped out all the water and looked for him, but he was gone. The clever guy obviously bailed out and hopefully with a fully functioning shell, but I will never know for sure.
As one patient is discharged so another arrives. Putting the bins out I found a new invalid; damaged by the rough handling of the wheely-bin, no doubt. He was a large chap with a cracked shell and he was clinging to a leaf. I popped him into the hospital to recover with a piece of fresh lettuce. He has been there a week now and not moved a lot. He doesn’t seem to have much of an appetite either. He has just curled up on the soft soil and gone into a self-induced coma. Either that or he is dead. Is it possible to check the pulse of a snail? I am giving him the benefit of the doubt and check on him on a daily basis. So far the shell looks no different. The jagged edges have not fused together but stick out at angles like a snapped twig. Am I just prolonging his agony and denying a slug his due sustenance?
Today when I checked on the snail a fly flew out from under the protective cover. An ominous sign I thought and sure enough round the edges of the shell I could see fine, white mould seeping out. My snail had passed away. The snail hospital doesn’t have a very good mortality rate so far with three of my four patients deceased. Not to worry though, I took the dead snail and tipped it out into the maggot sanctuary. Mother Nature’s not the only one who knows how to make do and mend.