Keeping you current

A Lonely Snail With an Unusual Shell Strikes Out in Love

Researchers brought Jeremy two potential partners who went on to mate with each other

Jeremy the snail, with the baby of his unrequited lovers. (Angus Davison/The University of Nottingham)
smithsonian.com

Finding that special someone can be difficult—especially when you’re a snail with atypically aligned genitals. 

As Samantha Schmidt reports for the Washington Post, a lonely garden snail named Jeremy has been consistently unlucky in love. He has a rare genetic mutation that makes his shell spiral to the left, which means that his sex organs are located on his left side. Most snails have right-spiraling shells, with their organs on their right side. Snails are hermaphrodites, but their genitals need to align for mating to occur. And because snails face each other when they do the deed, Jeremy’s genitals just don’t match up with those of potential partners.

Angus Davison, an associate professor at the School of Life Sciences at the University of Nottingham, has been studying Jeremy for eight months. Back in October, he took it upon himself to act as the little guy’s wingman. Davison put out a call to the public, asking them to keep their eyes peeled for other “lefty” snails that might be able to get it on with Jeremy.

The campaign was a success. Jeremy became a media celebrity—or “shellebrity,” according to his Twitter account—and within a few weeks, two potential mates were located: Lefty, who belonged to a collector in England, and Tomeu, who was spotted at a restaurant and rescued before he could become somebody’s next meal.    

As Melissa Chan explains for Time, Davison tucked the snails away in a lab so they could hibernate for three months. He hoped that Jeremy would finally get lucky when the critters woke up, but alas, it was not meant to be.

Rather than pair off with Jeremy, Lefty and Tomeu mated with each other. Researchers announced earlier this month that the pair has produced three clutches of eggs, and more than 170 baby snails. The first batch of eggs was ‘fathered’ by Lefty and laid by Tomeu; because snails are hermaphrodites, they can fulfill the role of either mother or father.

 “[I]n a tragic twist, Jeremy has been left shell-shocked after being given the cold shoulder by both of his suitors,” according to the press release. But the indignities do not end there. Sometimes, the babies of Jeremy’s love interests crawl on him.

Though Jeremy was left out on his own, Davison was happy about the union of Lefty and Tomeu. He was eager to see whether their offspring would “follow in the left-coiling footsteps of their parents,” according to the press release. But thus far, all of the babies have right-coiling shells.

“It is far more likely that we will get to see left-coiling babies produced in the next generation or even the generation after that,” Davison told Schmidt of the Washington Post.

During previous research, Davison and a team of international colleagues identified the gene that controls how a snail’s shell coils. The same gene influences asymmetry in humans, so Davison hopes that lefty snails will help researchers can gain a better understanding of organ placement in the body, Schmidt writes. 

As for Jeremy, one can only imagine that he is drowning his sorrows in rosé while sobbing to the tunes of Eric Carmen.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Flavorwire, and Women in the World, a property of The New York Times.

Read more from this author |
Tags

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus