She used to massage slugs and snails.
I remember one crawling over her hand, across her palm and up her wrist, tracing its journey with a thin trail of slime. She brought the tentacled beast close to her face, planted a kiss on its large foot and said she loved it.
Slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails, that’s what little boys are made of.
But the snail is both female and male.
Since I have been on the farm, I have been assisting Esther in education, working with local school groups from nursery to secondary level. One of the favoured activities with the younger ones is the minibeast hunt, collecting and identifying invertebrates from the gardens, normally a lot of Helix aspersa garden snails – the same species used in French cooking. These lucky snails are then released, whereas other snails found on the farm are fed to the ducks and chickens. Then we bring out Esther’s pair of Achatina fulica giant African land snails to much excitement.
These gastropods can grow up to 20cm and, like other terrestrial snails, are simultaneous hermaphrodites, meaning that they contain both male and female sexual organs. Snails of a similar size carry out bilateral mating, where each snail in the pair is simultaneously fertilised. If the two snails are different sizes, the larger one acts as the female. They breed rapidly, sometimes laying as many as 200 eggs five or six times a year, and are considered one of the world’s 100 worst invasive species.
Drawing of the reproductive system of Helix pomata by Johannes Meisenheimer, 1912.
For more details on the sexual behaviour of snails, watch Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno made for the Sundance channel: