I'm sorry to talk about snails, I know they're not a favourite gardeners' friend, but this is actually an amazing story.
It starts back in 2017.
On the 24th May, I flung them out of my garden, over the fence, and way out into the open grassy area next to my house, which is lush, grassy, and tree-edged, which I assume is something like a permanent running buffet to snails, as opposed to my fully-shingled, soil-less desert of a garden.
This is my chosen method of dealing with snails at home - I fling them out of the garden, releasing them into the wild, rather than deliberately, cold-heartedly killing them.
After all, I don't want them in my garden but they do have a job to do, in the wider scheme of things: they are part of nature's bin-men team, reducing plant waste to organic matter, and recycling our dead greenery for the benefit of all. It's just annoying when they chomp on my prize plants, instead of eating the masses and masses of weeds which are freely available... but I am not a naturally cruel person (“no, I have to work on it!”) and, like many gardeners, I don't want to scatter chemicals around the place needlessly, nor do I want to deliberately kill a living creature just because it eats my plants.
OK, I'll make an exception to that last part for Vine Weevils, and for Lily Beetles, both of which I kill without a second thought whenever I find them.... but generally speaking, not a cruel person, blah blah, chemicals, microbacteria, blah blah, risk of poisoning to birds and hedgehogs, you know how it goes.
Now, I read on the internet that snails do indeed have a homing sense: this is based on the work of a lady called Ruth Brooks, who did an informal experiment in her own garden, followed by a proper scientific one in 2010 in which she found that snails would return to “home” if relocated 20 yards/metres or so. Her conclusion was that snails need to be moved at least 30m, preferably 100m or more, in order to prevent them just schmoozing on back, at their average rate of a yard/metre an hour.
I didn't know about this, back in May 2017, otherwise I might have flung it harder. Hmm, could this be a new Olympic sport? Snail hurling? Maybe not.
My overarm fling was probably barely 10 yards, which at the time I thought was sufficient to set this snail free. Did it take advantage of this second chance, to go and see the world outside my garden? Did it ramble off to explore the lovely hedgerow? No - it chose to laboriously inch its way back into my garden, presumably followed by all the other snails which I have ejected from my garden.
Elegant blue paint still clearly visible, he doesn't seem to have grown in the meantime... but actually I have no idea how long snails live, or how fast they grow.
Are they like tortoises, unable to grow if their shells have been painted?
(quick break while I do some cursory internet searching: ok, they live 5-15 years on average, up to 25 years in captivity. Question: why would anyone want to have a pet snail?) Well, I don't really care how long they live, this one was sent on another flying expedition over the side fence, this time with quite a lot of energy.
So, this is conclusive proof that snails have a homing facility.
Or was it just coincidence?
What was I to do with it? I couldn't kill it, could I? We were practically friends.
So I hurled him back over the fence, with at least twice as much vigour as the second time. Right over into the long grass.
This time, for sure, he wouldn't be back....
Time went on, no more blue-painted snails were found. The rest of 2018 came and went.
And then..... yesterday......
I was cleaning out some boxes full of plants in pots, and what did I find?
A dead snail.
An empty shell.
But look! An empty shell with blue paint on it!
May 2019, two years after this inadvertent experiment began, he's back - but dead.
So that, dear readers, proves conclusively that snails LOOOOVE my garden, and will return to it time and time again, despite being flung out into an all-day, all-you-can-eat haven of food, shelter, and - presumably - other snails with whom to converse, mate, and generally enjoy life.
They will turn their back on this paradise and painstakingly ooze their way back to my shingle-covered, open-to-the-birds back yard, where they can eat my precious plants and generally annoy me.
The moral of this tale is that, in future, snails will receive NO MERCY in my back yard!
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