Farming Snails

Photo credit - slack12/Foter.com/CC-BY-NC-ND

Photo credit – slack12/Foter.com/CC-BY-NC-ND

You wouldn’t normally think of snails as farmers. If anything they’d be more like cows, grazing through the day. Cows aren’t that smart. When they’re relaxing, chewing their cud, they’re probably not planning how to grow their next crop of grass. So what of snails, then?

Snails aren’t very brainy, even compared to cows. There’s the question of whether they can even be said to have a brain. They have a nervous system which has a clump of neurons at the head end, which might be a brain. Or it might just be an aggregation of nerve cells, a mere ganglion. We have similar clusters in our nervous system. One example is the solar plexus, located in the abdomen just below the diaphragm. It does a lot of very important work but you wouldn’t call it a brain.

Periwinkle

Periwinkle

How can snails be farmers? Surely they’re so simple they could never do anything that implies planning and foresight. The answer doesn’t deal with what the snails are thinking, only what they’re doing. The marsh periwinkle, one species of farming mollusk, grows a special fungus for its own consumption. The field it tills is a marsh grass called Spartina, which the snail grazes on twice. The first time it cuts a groove in the flesh of the grass and plants the spores of the fungus with its fecal pellets. The second pass is when the snail eats the fungus which has grown vigorously in the exposed flesh of the grass. The snail plants the fungus whether it means to or not. Vital nutrients are provided by the fecal pellets. The fungus grows and the snail reaps abundant, nutritious food. Even if it’s accidental it’s still farming.

Photo credit - hankplank/Foter.com/CC-BY-NC-ND

Photo credit – hankplank/Foter.com/CC-BY-NC-ND

While some animals are surprisingly like humans in their agricultural practises, there are others that still outdo us in technology. Human scientists practising biomimetics, where they try to imitate how nature is doing something, are just now equalling the stickiness of gecko feet, for instance. The same is true for fiber optic cables, which are presently made at high temperatures and have the problem of being brittle. In nature a so-called glass sponge makes fibers at normal temperatures which transmit light just as well but are tougher and more flexible.

Sponges and snails. Good company to be in.

rjb

About arjaybe

Jim has fought forest fires and controlled traffic in the air and on the sea. Now he writes stories.
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10 Responses to Farming Snails

  1. Laird Smith says:

    It sounds like farming is the oldest profession in the world which usurps the claim of prostitution.

  2. arjaybe says:

    LOL. Thanks for the comment.

    rjb

  3. emmylgant says:

    For about a week, when we had so much rain, I stepped on snails by accident. I started watching my steps and moved the snails off the walk way and next to my chair (outdoors, duh). Have they learned? I don’t know, but they skirt my path, therefore they are a non-issue now;-)
    Great post! I’d like to have one of those sponges on my bedside table… better than a lava lamp and waayyy cool.( Before you ask, no I don’t have a lava lamp. I don’t know why I brought it up.)
    I think it’s a purple ribbon moment. ;-/

    • arjaybe says:

      When glass sponges die they leave behind the glass, so you should be able to find one somewhere. And what’s wrong with lava lamps? I can stare at them for hours.-)

      rjb

  4. emmylgant says:

    Well, that’s the problem, stare at the sicko green (or whatever) blob change shape for hours instead of … I don’t know, slay dragons or shop for a magic carpet on ebay. 😉

  5. emmylgant says:

    Yup. Although if the lava lamp gets you into a meditative state or dreamland, then pfftt! it’s better than slaying dragons. At least there is no sweating or swearing involved, right?

  6. arjaybe says:

    Here’s an update on sea sponges, and how they do it. It has to do with using concentric tubes in their construction process. That’s tubes within tubes, kind of like Matroska dolls.

    http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2015/apr/10/scientists-reveal-how-a-sea-sponge-gets-its-remarkable-strength

    rjb

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