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SKIN SNAILS AND SLIME TRAILS
I’ve just been down a rather deep, rather strange rabbit hole. Or should I say, “mollusk hole?”
It began, as things often do, at a coffee shop. I’d passed this particular shop many times and finally decided to drop in and sample their lattes. On my way out, gripping my steaming cup of Joe, I encountered my barista, endeavoring to relocate snails away from the front porch. There were two of them, and the tragically squished remains of a third, which is what prompted her relocation efforts. She wanted the survivors out of harm’s way. While I applaud her desire to rescue a creature many people have nothing but disdain for, I was momentarily speechless when she told me she thought the smaller survivor (a petite, white one) had come from the body of the recently deceased.
I often find myself astounded at the lack of knowledge some people have about the world around them, especially the natural world. And then, I remind myself that I’ve learned a lot because biology is my jam. Many people don’t know because they aren’t interested. I don’t know squat about Cricket, the game (but ask me about the insect sometime…when you have lots of time). I know what a cricket bat looks like, but that’s pretty much it. My knowledge of the sport is limited because I simply don’t care. I guess that’s how some people feel about biology.
Meanwhile, this coffee purveyor is telling me she thinks the little snail squirted out of the big one, along with the rest of its innards. Trying to recover myself, I simply suggest to her that snails lay eggs. I don’t continue to rant on about how snails do not give birth to live young. They mate, lay eggs, and then go away. It’s true that the itty bitty baby snails hatch from those eggs with itty bitty snail shells on their backs, but - at least as far as North American land snails are concerned - they don’t hatch out at the size of coffee beans and they don’t hatch inside of their father-mothers (snails are hermaphrodites).
Aside from the reproductive habits of snails, some of them do eat other snails. Snails eat all kinds of things, from nematodes and dead leaves to vegetation and cadavers. But, even if it wanted to, the bigger, dead snail couldn’t even have swallowed the smaller one whole. While land snails have been known to slurp up worms, and some sea snails can eat an entire fish, their rows of sharp teeth - called a radula - grind their food to bits before they swallow it.
That still doesn’t explain how I ended up spiraling into the pits of the interwebs. Even if I didn’t wax on about the impossibilities of Little Snail coming whole out of Squished Snail to the well-meaning barista, in my head, I ranted on and on before coming to the realization that I’m not a malacologist (a snail expert) and I’d better check myself.
“And that’s when she jumped online to research mollusks and was never heard from again…”
It was during the process of reading about snail reproduction that I came across a one-line bit of info saying that the secretions of snails are used in cosmetics. That set off alarm bells in the self-righteous animal rights part of my brain and I immediately sought out fuel for the fire. I do honestly try hard not to be an A-hole about it, but I’ve long had disdain for the cosmetics industry. Aside from animal testing that I strongly oppose, a lot of weird ingredients find their way into makeup. That’s part of the reason I don’t often wear the stuff, the other part being that I’m kinda lazy and it feels gross on my skin.
Thinking that I’d possibly uncovered another condemning factoid to roast the cosmetics industry over, I took a detour on that track to learn more. First, I read four or so scientific papers describing clinical research on the “topical effects of SCA.” SCA is what they call Cryptomphalus aspersa secretion, a.k.a. mucus from the common garden snail. In another WriteSpike rant, I rambled on about how reporters often misinterpret scientific research (my Invisible Alligator article). I wanted to know if snail slime really works and how it made its way into skincare products. The few reports I skimmed appeared to confirm that snail slime has benefits, but not a lot of test subjects.
That led me to wonder how thorough a product has to be tested before the FDA approves it for the beauty store shelf. Naturally, this meant marching on to the Food and Drug Administration website to search for answers. The big answer to that question is: they don’t. The FDA does not have to approve a cosmetic product’s ingredients before that product goes on the market (with the exception of added colors). There are regulations that have to be followed, but there’s no pre-approval process.
So let’s assume that snail slime is great for reducing wrinkles, even though the “proof” is iffy at best. Let’s also assume that snail slime is SAFE to rub on your face, even though it doesn’t have to be tested by the FDA first. Just how do they get the slime from the snails in the first place? Cringing slightly, I slid even further down this twisted chasm of research, into the slimy realm of YouTube (okay, YouTube’s not exactly the Dark Web, but it went well with the snail metaphor). I was pleasantly surprised to discover a succinct video from Great Big Story about an Italian inventor who figured out how to get snails to produce more ooze. He calls it a “snail spa” and he makes the snails happy. Apparently, when a snail gets happy, it produces more slime. But, the video did hint that most of the industry uses snail-harming practices to get the gooey stuff.
And there you have it. From coffee to snail ooze in one article. At least I’ve saved you at least six hours (I’m not kidding) of weird snail-related research. If you want to learn more about this subject, here are a few places to look:
Dovepress. Flavia Addor, Brazil
Topical effects of SCA (Cryptomphalus aspersa secretion) associated with regenerative and antioxidant ingredients on aged skin: evaluation by confocal and clinical microscopy
FDA Regulations on Cosmetics
Americans are putting snail slime on their faces
Great Big Story (video)
Harvesting Snail Slime for Beauty Products
**Image was taken by the author. This is one of the actual snails referenced in my story about the barista.
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