Tag Archives: Invertebrates

common garden snail on little girl's hand

Don’t step on that snail

I found myself with an unusual problem in the garden the other day…. I’d run out of snails.

In my old Victorian terrace garden with brick walls separating neighbour from neighbour and preventing freedom of movement for frogs and hedgehogs, this was never something I would have thought possible. I had quite the opposite problem. But in our new garden with hedges allowing snail predators to roam at will, and a very active thrush, numbers are low.

Which wouldn’t normally bother me too much, but my oldest daughter has taken a liking to them. She thinks of them as pets. We’ve had a few weeks together before she starts school while her baby sister is in preschool in which we go out in the garden together to work on some project or other, and it’s never long before she starts playing the same game, building a house for her “snailies”.

Is it possible for a snail to have Stockholm syndrome? I think these must. They’re so used to being picked up and put in a flower pot to be studied that the seem to be quite happy coming out of their shells and sliming away along her hands. They’re probably desperately attempting a low speed escape, but she’s very gentle with them, picking the nicest flowers she can find to make them at home. Some days she won’t come inside all day, and has her lunch as a picnic so she can sit and watch her snails in their Everton mint swirls. There’s no such thing as a common garden snail to her, each one is magical.

Snails in a flower pot

Which is why I find myself in a position where I feel like I don’t have enough snails in my garden anymore. Overnight, the snails creep out of the flower pot she tucks safely under a rose bush, saying goodnight and sometimes reading them a bedtime story. The next day when we go to see them, they’ve gone. Once or twice there have been suspiciously similar looking snail shells (I don’t dare mark them with paint) broken open and eaten by the thrush’s hammerstone in the garden, “It’s okay Mammy, that can’t be my snaily, his shell was whole.” Was.

So I find myself hunting anywhere dark and damp, in the ivy, behind pots and it’s becoming harder and harder to find them.

But I think the snail obsession is good for her. She’s learnt how to handle them gently, the foods and situations they prefer in the garden. She’s learnt that if she sits in bright sunlight they won’t come out of their shells, but if she sits outside they will browse the food she provides for them. She doesn’t seem to have learnt that they don’t share her fondness for floral aesthetics, but she will compromise and offer them a range of leaves as well as flowers.

So now I just need to learn where they prefer to breed, and make sure that I have enough likely sites in the garden to boost their populations enough to keep the thrush and the children happy.

Is anyone else missing the moths?

If the climate catastrophe threatening heatwave we’ve been having in the UK wasn’t enough in itself to keep me awake, something else has been worrying me lately: crashing populations of invertebrates.

My garden seems to be teeming with life at the moment. The flowers are at their peak and are drawing in pollinators by the dozen, the warm weather has brought out the butterflies and I’ve even some noticed some entirely new visitors in the form of hornet mimic hoverflies, but despite this,  there are areas in which invertebrate life is conspicuous by its absence. This tweet reminded me of this the other day.

And I do remember that. Being fascinated and disgusted in equal measure by the splat marks from insects on the windscreen. How the bigger ones would leave a body and the smaller ones would seemingly almost vaporize. And how sorry I’d feel for them that they never stood a chance. But James is right, you just don’t see them as much anymore.

The thing that has really been missing for me is moths and flies. I can remember as a small child watching fascinated as several fat flies would zip around our living room in bizarre geometric patterns, suddenly changing directions for no apparent reason. They’d appear any time the windows of our house were opened. My mother was an obsessive cleaner so I should really have more flies, not less in the house. Now we get about one large nuisance fly a day. Who would even need a fly swat anymore, or fly paper? They used to be household staples for my great-grandmother’s generation.

The moths though, seem to me a great pity. My parents always used to lecture me about having the window open when the lights were on because the most incredible large moths would fly in in droves. I text my brother a few months ago asking if he remembered the huge moths we used to get in the house, but you hardly see them anymore. My heart leapt when I saw this vain little buff ermine eyeing itself in my bathroom the other night, just as beautiful as a butterfly but with a little more mystique.

I’m going to make sure that I plant a lot more plants for moth caterpillars going forward. The summer evenings just don’t feel quite right without them.