As It Happens

Jeremy the snail is rare, lonely and looking for love

A British researcher is playing match-maker for a garden snail. The challenge is that Jeremy's shell swirls the opposite direction than most. That means he'll need to find another extremely rare "lefty" to mate with.
Jeremy the snail, on top, has a shell that swirls counter-clockwise or left, making him extremely rare. But thankfully, amateur snail scientist Jade Melton has found Jeremy a potential mate. (University of Nottingham)

Jeremy is looking for love. But Jeremy has a problem.

Jeremy is a common garden snail who lives in the lab of University of Nottingham's life sciences department. And you'd think, hey, no biggie — just scour the compost heaps and gardens of Nottinghamshire and you're bound to find him a suitable mate.

When they try to mate, essentially, their bits are in the wrong position.- Angus Davison, University of Nottingham

Unfortunately, he has a rare genetic deal-breaker that means his potential lover is one in a hundred thousand.

But that's not deterring Jeremy's match-maker. Angus Davison is an associate professor of evolutionary genetics. He spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off from Nottingham, England. This is an edited version of their conversation:

Angus Davison is an associate professor of evolutionary genetics and Jeremy the snail's match-maker. (University of Nottingham)

Carol Off: Angus, how did you come to meet Jeremy the snail?

Angus Davison: Well, I was really lucky. There is a retired colleague at the Natural History Museum in London. He was in his garden one day and he spotted this very rare snail. And he knew that I'd be interested in it. So, by hook or by crook — actually by snail mail — he got it to me.

CO: Describe a bit more about what it is that is different about Jeremy?

AD: If you look at most snails, the easiest way I can think to describe it, is, if you place them on a flat surface so that they are all facing the same way, so their foot is down, you should notice, if you start with the pointy bit and follow the spiral round, it goes in a clockwise way. And, if you're really lucky, you'll find a snail that coils the other way.

Jeremy the snail, on the left, has a shell that swirls counter-clockwise or left, making him extremely rare. But thankfully, amateur snail scientist Jade Melton has found Jeremy a potential mate. (University of Nottingham)

CO: Why is it difficult for him to find a partner?

AD: They mate in a kind of position that is called face-to-face. And one of the weird things about snails is that their shells are coiled clockwise or anti-clockwise, but their whole bodies are too. So the rare type is a mirror image of the common type. That means when they try to mate, essentially, their bits are in the wrong position. But they probably don't know that.

CO: So Jeremy can never have any love unless he finds someone just like him?

AD: Yes, that's probably true. Sometimes they will self-fertilize because they are hermaphrodites, so, in that sense, Jeremy is slightly misnamed. But they don't like in-breeding. They prefer to out-breed, so we're really hoping the public can help us find another rare partner.

CO: Why did you call him Jeremy?

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, said to be an avid gardener, leaves his home in London. (Neil Hall/Reuters)

AD: The current leader of the left-wing political party in the United Kingdom is called Jeremy [Corbyn] and, also, he likes hanging around compost heaps because he likes gardening. So it was almost inevitable that we had to call him Jeremy.

CO: If a Canadian finds a 'lefty' snail, do you really want them to send it to you? 

AD: No, I'd prefer for them to send a photo to me first because one of the things we're already seeing is that people get really confused about left and right and how to identify them. It would be best to email me or tweet the photo.

CO: Is it possible to mail a snail from Canada?

AD: It's physically possible. There's a few things you'd need to check out in terms of customs. They're very good travellers. That's the same reason you find them in Canada. Imagine if you import some food and there's a snail on the underside or a bird flies across the ocean and it's got a small snail stuck to its feathers because they're sticky. They get around really well, they're tough, they're survivors. 

Think you have a mate for lonely Jeremy somewhere in your backyard? Tweet Professor Davison here, using the hashtag #leftysnail. Or, you can also send him an email.  


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