Thursday, June 17, 2010

Roman Snail

Also known as the Burgundy Snail and the Edible Snail, Helix pomatia is probably most commonly known by its culinary moniker... Escargot. Now, these snails are not the only species that can become Escargot, but they are certainly one of the most traditional. Roman Snails have been picked up and eaten since well, Roman times, if not earlier. While they are found in all of continental Europe, it was the Romans who first brought the snails with them to England, were they can still be found, albeit rarely. These snails now have legal protection in the U.K.

Courtship image from The Living World of Molluscs
They are quite large, with body lengths of 4 inches and shells up to 2 inches in diameter. They are the largest land snails found in Europe. Roman Snails are hermaphroditic, meaning they are both male and female at the same time, and their courtship rituals are quite extensive. The process can last for hours as the snails circle around each other before touching their soles against one another. The young that hatch from the eggs look like miniature versions of their parents, but only a few will actually live to reach maturity at about two years. Roman Snails have the ability to hibernate, which allows them to live 10-15 years.

Roman Snails also have a substantial impact on decomposition within an ecosystem. They are able to assimilate high percentages of their food, and consume it very quickly, which assists in the aforementioned decomposition and break down.

Image from Wikimedia Commons
As previously mentioned, Roman Snails are rare and have legal protection in the United Kingdom. They are also scarce and protected in other areas as well, including France. Ever since snail consumption became fashionable in the 19th century the population has reached endangered levels. The culinary tradition is only able to continue due to established Snail farms and importation from countries where the numbers are higher.

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