Tuesday November 08, 2016
Despite 'one-in-a-million' odds, Jeremy the lonely snail has found a lover
more stories from this episode
As It Happens listeners might recall a heartbreaking story of loneliness and desire that we recently covered.
It was a segment about a British snail named Jeremy, whose extremely rare, left-spiralling shell ruled out the possibility of mating with most other snails. As Angus Davison, the professor of evolutionary genetics we spoke to at the time put it, "Essentially, their bits are in the wrong position."
Well, that story is now one of sweet, serendipitous (and somewhat slimy) love. Jeremy the snail has found a potential mate named "Lefty."
"I found him crawling up a tree in my partner's garden," Jade Melton tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "I found Lefty before Jeremy was found — so I've had Lefty for quite a long time."
Melton is an amateur snail scientist and first-time snail matchmaker. Her snail, Lefty, has the same left-aligned anatomy as Jeremy.
A member of her local conchological society — a group that studies "all things snail and shell related" — told Melton about the effort to find Jeremy a mate.
"[Professor Davison] reckons they're one-in-a-million — so that's pretty rare," Melton explains. "I got into contact with him straight away."
Melton is currently looking after the unlikely couple and closely monitoring their tank for any signs of courtship.
"They've not actually psychically mated yet, but they had some flirting encounters last night which was a positive sign," Melton explains. "They just touch each other gently with their tentacles, their eye stocks, and they will kind of caress each other for a while. It is very sweet, but with snails it's always a slow process."
Melton says the foreplay may last for a couple of hours or go all night. She adds that only when the "love darts" come out is it actually possible for successful intercourse to occur.
"They are basically calcified, almost like little darts, little bits of icicles that they fire into one another," Melton explains. "Their sexual organs are on the side of their heads and that's what they are aiming for."
Melton has seen Lefty attempt to mate with right-aligned garden snails. But, of course, the love darts always miss the mark.
"He would try to make it happen, but the other snail wasn't having any of it," Melton recalls. "It was quite sad really because he obviously wanted to seal the deal."
(The snails are hermaphrodites, but their human minders sometimes refer to them as "he." Jeremy is named after British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.)
With signs that Jeremy and Lefty are slowly, very slowly, falling for one another, Melton is excited to see Lefty finally "seal the deal" and discover whether the snails will produce any left-aligned offspring.
"Hopefully, in the next couple of nights, as they both ate some food last night," Melton says. "That means they'll have some energy — so hopefully they'll use it."