Snails are gastropods with a helix shaped shell, in which the whole of the its body is contained. These molluscs dwell in every kind of environment: from the enormous depts of the ocean, to the vastly spanning arboreal environments. All of the edible snails are pulmonates and almost all of them belong to the helicidae family.
The inner anatomy of the snail is comprised of a primitive lung, a small brain (known as a cerebral ganglium) that is divided into four sections, a single kidney and a heart. Snail mouth contains a radula, which is a chitin structure made out of thousands of small teeth and is used to scrape off food from various surfaces. During the quiet hours in the snail farm, one could hear how myriads of snails eat their feed.
The snails move forward by rapidly contracting and expanding the muscle of their foot to make waves of movement. They also excrete mucus, which protects the snail from drying and helps the foot to slide along whatever surface it encounters. Snails have one or two pairs of tentacles that contain eyes and olfactory organs at their ends, which are responsible for their perception of the environment. The snail shell is made out of calcium carbonate, like that of most of the molluscs. Snails receive their calcium from their diet and excrete it to produce their shells, since, as the snails grow, so does the shell. If the diet lacks calcium a shell that is too soft and does not serve the protective purposes results. On the other hand, too much calcium gives an extra thick shell that inhibits the growth of the soft parts. That is why it is important to maintain calcium balance when feeding snails. To consider other factors that influence snail growth besides feed, it is useful to know that population density, moisture and light are also relevant to consider during various stages of snail growth. Helix aspersa are the most active during the night, when the temperature drops and moisture precipitates. One should keep in mind that during hot and sunny periods snails need to be sprayed with water if the shade is not sufficient.
The most popular species amongst the farmers is Helix aspersa (commonly known as the garden snail), especially maxima or muller varieties. These snails can reach a full length of 8 cm, can have a 3 – 4,5cm diameter shell and a mass of 15-35g. Farmed snails are usually larger than the ones dwelling in the natural conditions. Most of the helicidae snails are hermaphrodytes. During the breeding season each Helix aspersa individual can produce up to 200 eggs that are laid into the soil at a depth of 5 to 10 centimeters and are burried. After 2-4 weeks the younglings hatch with a shell already present. Helix aspersa snails naturally live between 2 to 5 years, but a single cycle of reproductions only takes one year, making it very suitable for commercial purposes. These snails reach full size after 6 to 8 months – from the beginning of spring, until the mid-autumn.
Helix aspersa species are naturally widespread in most of the Europe and originate from along the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. These snails have been introduced to the British Isles by Roman settlers and in 19th century have colonised the shores of N.America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand and are considered invasive species in some places. It is a very adaptive species capable of thriving in various climatic conditions that is why growing it is least risky.
Helix aspersa snails are known in most of Europe and are considered a culinary delicacy. In France these snails are known as “Escargots”, “Petit gris”, “Escargit chagrine” or “La zigrinata”. Snail produce are also very popular in Spain, Italy, Germany, USA and are reaching their way to other countries.
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