Saving Gary: How to Help a Snail Off the Street
An animal lover’s guide to helping a snail cross the road
Have you ever seen a snail in the middle of the street and wanted to get it out of harm’s way? If you’re like me and you'd like to help a little friend out, but you don't know how, here’s a nugget of helpful information!
As I've mentioned in my other articles, like my feature on squirrels or my memoir for my cat: I’m an animal lover. Really, I admire all animals! From the biggest one to the tiniest one. Please, don’t get me wrong! Of, course I’m only human and I do get grossed out by bugs or scared by poisonous snakes or spiders. Still, that doesn’t mean I’d harm any of them. I’m the person that -literally- wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Today, during my morning stroll, I was very lucky to find a cute, little garden snail in the middle of the sidewalk. A bit like this one:
Interesting fact: Did you know that snails' shell patterns are so variable that they're almost like snail fingerprints.
Anyway, as any child of the 90's who watched SpongeBob, I named him Gary! I don't know if it was actually a "he", but for lack of evidence, I'll call him that. It's really up to Gary, though!
Saving Gary? Or at Least Trying.
Like most people with a heart, I wanted to give the little buddy a hand and help it avoid getting crushed by a distracted pedestrian. But I had absolutely no idea how (please don't judge me, I haven't been in touch with many snails before!).
I didn't want to pick him up for fear of hurting him. First, I tried grabbing a leaf to see if he could climb up on it long enough to transfer him to a safe spot (you know, like a ladybug or a spider). But, the leaf was too small, and as soon as my hand approached him, he retreated into his shell.
The next step was trying to lift him directly with my fingers. After all, comfortably tucked inside his shell, it seemed easier to move him. I tugged gently, but his "foot" was quite stuck to the ground and I was afraid to pull harder and hurt him (I was right, see more on this below!). So, in the end, I decided to leave him alone and prayed that a random stranger wouldn't walk over him.
Hopefully, I didn't hurt Gary just by tugging on him a little, but I probably made him scared for dear life. I can see it. The poor guy is getting home now and telling his snail-mate and kids “This weird lady who poked me with a leaf and tried to pick me up today!”.
Since I couldn't help Gary, it got me thinking "how could I not know this important piece of information?".
It's such a simple thing! So, being me, I rushed home to do some research (you know, to be prepared in case this happens again). Browsing, I found people who asked the same questions (it's nice to know I’m not alone on this one, this is stuff we need to know!). However, the replies varied a lot.
Most of the answers I found were anecdotal experiences on forums like Reddit. So, I decided to search for something a little bit more scientific.
But, before moving on to the real answers, I just want to share this gem that I found:
I really hope those were not Gary's "itty bitty plans", though! However, this question did touch on some important points.
Here are three common questions when you want to help a snail off the street safely (and their answers):
"If I try to move a snail, am I helping it or hurting it?"
The answer is: it depends. I was quite shocked to see that there's a big gap of information on this topic, since finding a snail on the street it's a very common experience. Or, is it just me worrying about this?! Sadly, most of the research I found was focused on getting rid of snails.
However, it's true. Getting a snail safe from the immediate danger of being crushed can potentially bring more help than harm. But, you must do it properly. This includes making sure you handle it the right way to avoid injury and being mindful about placement (see the next sections).
"If I relocate a snail, will it get disoriented?"
In terms of orientation, research suggests that snails have a homing instinct, which means that they can usually find their way back home. So, it might take them a little while to adjust their path after you move them and get back on track. But, most likely, relocating our slimy friends a small distance away to safety won't hurt them. However, moving them for longer distances (more than 10 meters) might prevent them from going home to their shell-mates.
"Can I safely grab and move a snail?"
Technically, there are ways to safely move snails from the road to a more convenient location. It's okay to try to help (if you want). However, you have to be very gentle or you could really hurt them!
The ideal way is when the snail is active and moving. Then, you can try to get it on a leaf and slide it somewhere else. Sometimes, spraying a little water on a snail can get it moving (but not everyone is carrying a spray bottle around, right?). So, this may not always work.
If the snail is standing still, you can try to gently move it (placing your fingers only on the base of the shell, not the body). If you attempt this, it's very important that you DO NOT try to pick them up vertically! Instead, it's better to slide them slowly in a forward or backward motion, with the least amount of force possible (and trying not to squish them). However, this usually only works on soft surfaces.
Here's a little video I found, with a quick demonstration on how to do it:
Why is this so important? As the girl in the video explains, snails bodies’ are structurally connected to their shell through tissue and muscles connecting to their mantle. The mantle is basically the matrix for their body and shell. Pulling them directly up can cause a mantle tear or collapse, which can seriously hurt them (or slowly and painfully kill them).
However, I realized that when snails are sliding on the pavement, there is more traction. It's a rough surface, so it might be harder to slide them without hurting them. An alternative could be to gently poke the snail until it fully retracts in its shell and try to move it then (just make sure its "foot" is not stuck to the ground anymore). There's no straight forward answer!
In the end: In case of doubt, it's always better to leave the snail be and hope it continues safely on its way!
Knowing this, I wish that I'd been able to help Gary more (or at least that I hadn't disturbed him). I genuinely hope he didn't get stepped on! However, the next best thing I could do to help was writing this article.
Next time I'll know better how to help a Gary get home safely. And, hopefully, you will too!
Thank you for reading!
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