Dippy at Home - Snails, Slugs and Slime Part 1

Type:Indoor

A snail on some orange blossom.

About

Suitable for: children aged 5-11.

Things to do to study snails, slugs and slime.

Slugs and snails are very important. They provide food for all sorts of mammals, birds, slow worms, earthworms, insects and they are part of the natural balance. Upset that balance by removing them and we can do a lot of harm.

Slugs and snails can be found wherever plants grow. Gardeners often try to discourage them as the slimy creatures love to eat soft green shoots of plants that grow in the garden.

We’ve all seen slugs and snails around, but perhaps haven’t had the time to look closely at them.

In these activities you’ll find out more about these molluscs that have such a bad reputation.

 

We’re going on a slug hunt

It is best to look for your slugs and snails when the weather is damp and if searching during the day try look under logs and stones. Try not to touch slugs as the slime can be difficult to get off your hands. People who study slugs, snails and other molluscs are called conchologists.

Use a notebook to describe what you can see. 

• How big?
• Where found?
• Colour?
• What plant is it eating?
• If you have a magnifying glass, use it to look closely at your slug. What features can you see?
• Can you make a quick sketch?

Make sure you wash your hands with hot, soapy water when you get back inside.

See an image of 6 common varieties of UK slugs and snails

More information at the Conchological Society of Great Britain and Ireland (external link)

See an image showing the features of slugs

Please use the hashtag #DippyAtHome to share any photos of the slugs or snails you've found.

 

How long can a snail sleep?

Take a look at this video produced by the Natural History Museum that tells the story of a very sleepy snail from Egypt in the 1800s.

Watch the video on YouTube (1min 13secs) (external link)

 

How strong is snail slime?

Why not try this quick experiment to find how strong snail slime can be?

Molluscs, like snails and slugs produce slime (mucus) from special glands all over their bodies. The slime is vital for the animals as it provides lubrication, helps the creature stick to surfaces, helps the slugs and snails communicate, and protects them from being scratched, bugs and predators. The slime stops the molluscs drying out. A snail will produce slime to seal them into their shell so that they can hibernate if it is too hot or cold.

Slime is usually around 90% water. The other 10% is made up of other ingredients that make the gel-like substance.

Some people even think snail slime is good for the skin and use it in beauty treatments.

You will need:

• A willing snail - try and find one on a damp day in the garden
• A piece of glass or flat plate - glass is great to see the snail moving
• Small pieces of different types of paper, like tissue, foil, newspaper
• Other small objects like grass, leaves or coins

Instructions:

1. Place the snail on the glass or plate. It’s best to put it in the middle.
2. Let the snail move around on the surface. If you're using glass, lift the plate up and look at how the snail is moving with its ‘foot’.
3. When you've a good slimy trail, return the snail to the garden and wash your hands.
4. Press the papers, leaves or coins on the slime trail.
5. Leave for 5 minutes.
6. Gradually tip the glass or plate until it is upside down.
7. Do any of the objects stay in place?

In the photograph below you can view snail slime supporting a coin and some foil, and snail poop. On the right hand side of the photograph, the slime is supporting a basil leaf.

Why do you think that the snail slime needs to be sticky?

See a photo of the snail slime supporting some objects

 

How far does a snail travel?

See how far your snail travels by 'tagging' them.

Before you release your snails back into the wild, you can ‘tag’ them with some bright nail varnish.

When you're out in the garden see if you can spot your tagged snail. You'll be amazed how far the snails can travel, looking for food and shelter.

Remember, they'll try and hide from predators and the hot sun, so check under stones and leaves.

See a photograph of some tagged snails

 

Fun facts about slugs and snails

• Slugs and snails are both molluscs, part of the same class of creatures- gastropods. Gastro means stomach, pod means foot.
• Snails and slugs are closely related, however snails have a hard shell on their back that they use for protection against predators and drying out.
• Slugs and snails leave a trail of slime called mucus as they move along. This slime allows the slug to move smoothly, reduces friction with the surface, and allows the creature to move along upside down. You can see where a snail or slug has been by looking for their silvery trails. The mucus also stops the slugs and snails from drying out.
• Slugs and snails have 2 pairs of tentacles on their ‘heads’. The top pair is slightly longer and can detect light, but can’t create an image like we do.
• Slugs and snails are nocturnal, which means they are active at night. This is because they are less likely to be spotted by predators and less likely to dry out. They also enjoy wet weather as they can move more easily.
• During the day and in very hot weather, slugs and snails seek shelter beneath pieces of wood, plants, pottery, decaying logs - anywhere that is hidden away. So if you are looking for snails, you may have to look in these places. The best time to look for snails and slugs is after dark when it is a bit damp.
• Snails and slugs have long tongues on their ‘foot’. The tongue (radula) has thousands of tiny teeth on it which rasps at the food. Find out more about snails' eating habits
• The largest gastropod ever recorded was an African Giant Snail. It measured 39.3cm from snout to tail when fully extended and weighed 900 grams.
• Snails can reach a speed of 1 metre per hour which means that they can cross an average garden during a night.
• Slugs can eat around 40 times their body weight in one day. Although it is annoying when they eat plants and seedlings that you’ve planted, they also clear up the garden by eating mouldy leaves and vegetation.

 

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Season (19 June 2020 - 12 Dec 2020)