Posted by: Memorizing Nature | September 6, 2010

Marvelous Strange Snails

What kind of animal carries on its body a film of remembered ocean, leaving a waterproof trail? It prefers the shade, terrified of evaporation. Long ago, the more adventurous of its kind emigrated from sea to land with one idea in mind – stay wet at all costs. Don’t bake. Hide under rocks. Love the clouds.  

What slime-covered organism has a head attached to a single flattened foot, with no indication of where the head ends and the foot begins? Bundled with muscle and deliberately locomotive, this combined body part slides and suctions its way along – a miracle of mucus chemistry.   

What creature can create, for its own protection, a sculpture of limestone carved in whorls?  The coiled shell buttresses its belly but also acts as incidental art. Such an exoskeleton developed so prettily because it’s available for public viewing. (Our own skeleton, in contrast, is utilitarian and lacks artistic merit. The assumption was that no one would ever perceive human bones, but then X-rays were invented and all was exposed.)  

"What creature can create, for its own protection, a sculpture of limestone carved in whorls?" (Photo by E. Medline)

These gastropod mollusks are examples of evolutionary success. They feel and smell with a pair of lower tentacles; they see with eyes dotted on vertical spires. (If an alien visited earth with visual apparatus perched on vertical appendages, we’d be flummoxed. But I would ask, “What’s the big deal? Snails have eyes on stalks, and no one cared about that then!”)

More and more, we ignore the quotidian beauty and weirdness around us. Our own eyes are stuck into our faces, and our soupy lenses have lazily turned inward.



  1. Neat observations! Nature is wonderful.

  2. Lovely. Snails are cool little creatures. I always marvel at the pace of their lives – so slow and serene.

  3. Interesting to read a post that gets poetical about snails, an animal that most gardeners love to hate. They are wonderful in their weirdness, though, aren’t they? And so well adapted.

    Once I found a pelagic snail that had been washed ashore by a big Pacific storm, still with its bubble float. The shell was incredibly delicate, pale lavender, so thin you could see through it. The bubble float was another miracle of mucous chemistry. I wish I had thought of that phrase!

  4. I’m delighted to have found your blog! Your writing style is riveting, both informative and poetical, and it’s clear to me that you’re one of the rare souls who really SEES nature in its simplicity and complexity. In the interest of time, I try to keep blog subscriptions to a minimum, but I’m subscribing to this one…don’t want to miss a single post. Thank you for your insights 🙂

  5. what a lovely post, I love snails too, at the moment there are lots of them attached to dead umbellifer flowerheads and the effect is stunning.

    I love the first sentence of this post, very beautiful

  6. I’m sorry I took so long to post the blog carnival. Your blog among others is at

  7. The writing is so good! It’s so rare to find a blog whose writing style is as engaging as the content and the pictures.
    Well done! I shall return.

  8. This definitely brought a smile to my face. Snails are wonderful creatures, mollusks in general are amazing. Its hard to believe that snails are so closely related to squid and octopi. Its sad that both of those tend to be considered ‘cool’ because of their exotic nature, but snails get stomped on. You see people getting tattoo of octopi all the time, but never of snails, yet, their internal workings are so similar.
    I also really liked the last paragraph, I completely agree 😀

    • Thanks, Vera. It wasn’t until I took that photograph that I actually realized how beautiful snails are.

  9. Dear Elaine, I thought your write-up on Marvelous Strange Snails was just fantastic. I work at the local Science Centre in Singapore and would love to feature a part of your write-up on one of our info panels in an up and coming mini-exhibition on snails (on 24 March 2012), which is being organised to promote our latest guidebook-A Guide to Snails and other Non-marine Molluscs in Singapore. If you’re willing, I’d be happy to attribute your content in whichever manner you deem best. Please let me know your thoughts on this as soon as possible. Thanks so much.

    • Danny, sounds like you’re putting together a fun, educational exhibit about under-appreciated beings. Please feel free to feature part of my write-up. You can attribute it to Elaine Medline’s website Memorizing Nature. And please let me know how the exhibit goes! Sincerely, Elaine

  10. […] blog post, from September 2010, was called Marvelous, Strange Snails. It was written before I started getting interested in photography, but I did manage to include a […]

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