Tales of the Glutinous Snail 2015

12th February 2015

Tales of the Glutinous Snail, and one man’s mission to save it.

Our work with 18 of the most critical pond species in Wales has included establishing a captive population of Glutinous Snails (Myxas glutinosa).  This interesting little snail, with a delicate shell covered in its jelly-like mantle, is now found in just one site in the UK.  As insurance against extinction, and to breed snails to establish new populations, our colleague Ian Hughes has set up a tank in his basement.  (Mis)adventure ensues, as Ian recalls…

Ankle deep in chilly lake waterOne Wednesday last autumn, I found myself driving from Chester to home (70 miles or thereabouts) with a model of a great Indian hornbill on the roof of the car, made only slightly more conspicuous by the tree it was attached to. I had to stop off at Lake Bala en-route to collect some water for a new Glutinous Snail tank and bumped into the lake wardens who “didn’t know I do that sort of thing” and this led, ankle deep in the chilly waters of Lake Bala, to an agreement to do otter footprint casting with children in March if a bid for funding is successful. “Nice to meet another mad-b*st*rd!” said the warden as we pulled off the slip way in the dark with a car full of water and a giant bird on the roof. “But I reckon you’re worse than me,” he followed, as our car windows rolled up and we parted company, mission accomplished.

But adventures don’t end because you think you’ve finished! It turned out that the bags of water from the lake have a life of their own when jostled by car movement and, a bit like slinkies, the bags actually started moving from one plastic box to another and then, inevitably, onto the floor where one sprung a leak, much to my son’s consternation as it filled the footwell and threatened his CD collection (brought along for the road-trip) and our snack-bag. Never has a foot-‘well’ been so appropriately named!

Ian and the snailsAnyway, we arrived home, took the hornbill off the roof and the full size amorphophallus model out of the back of the car complete with its concrete base that we had man-handled from the elephant enclosure at Chester Zoo and then we proceeded to wrestle the bags of water into the tank which I began to regret setting up at eye-level (for easier observation – but it puts the top of the tank above our heads). It seems sensible, one moment, just to snip a corner off the water bag with scissors and let it run into the tank but the next moment the bag seems angry (or playful?) and the water sees no reason why it should go in the tank and all rationality is lost when two tired people are trying to work as a team to control a bag of water (like a crazy octopus) above their heads and they are actually working at odds against each other and, seemingly taking it in turns to squirt the precious Bala water into each others faces.

When the bag was empty and the tank quarter full (we could have filled it to the brim if we’d wrung out our clothes) my son said “Why’s the tank up there?” but didn’t wait for my answer and, as he stomped off at the end of another ‘Day out with Dad’, I called after him “At least it wasn’t as bad as the day I showed you how to catch a swarm of bees!” (that’s another story but we now know that my wife and children can fit their entire bodies into a bee-hat & telling people to “stay calm” doesn’t always mean they will, and such instructions can, under certain circumstances, irritate people). The worst day was probably the one when the dustbin full of wood ants tipped over in the car but it is still a sore point so best not mentioned when trying to appease.

As my son disappeared into the house, my neighbour came trudging down the hill (the breeding room opens out onto the road) and asked what I was doing “this-time” as if “last-time” might have been an object of discussion amongst him and our other neighbours. I told him I was setting up a tank for the Glutinous Snail and was about to follow that it is restricted to a single site in the UK and is Europe’s most threatened snail and we are embarking on a hopeful mission to understand it better and save it from extinction but he cut in and said, “They’re all glutinous ain’t they? I’ve just killed about 500 in the garden. See ya later”.