Copulation nation

Back in college, a female friend of mine was visiting the gentleman’s farm that I had. While looking at the chickens, the rooster suddenly and violently mounted one of the hens and proceeded to do what roosters do best. My friend was shocked and asked why I didn’t break up the two chickens that were “fighting.” I explained they were actually mating, to which her face screwed up in thought and she stated that she had always believed that chickens breed like salmon; the hen lays the eggs and then the rooster would saunter up later and fertilize the eggs. I quickly dispelled this myth but I’ve always kept the incident in my mind as an illustration of how far separated many of us are from the origins of how our food, particularly animals, are created.

Misperceptions like this are common when it comes to snails (o.k., admittedly it probably doesn’t even cross too many people’s minds how snails breed). Most snail species are hermaphrodites, that is they possess both male and female sexual reproductive organs. This means that both are capable of breeding each other and laying a clutch of eggs, the manner by which most reproduce (a few give live birth, called viviparous, but that’s pretty rare). Not only that, but the escargot snail even shoots calcareous “darts”, called love darts, that are thought to spur on their partner’s libido. The dart shoots from the head of one snail and pieces the other’s body to signal the shooter’s desire to get sexy. Some say this was the original inspiration for Cupid’s arrow.

On this upcoming Valentine’s Day, let’s celebrate the snail’s active sexual life. I’ve posted a brief video of four snails pairing up for romance, but don’t get too excited as the action is a bit on the languorous side.

Happy Valentine’s Day!