Terrestrial snails are pretty simple creatures. Their motivations are satisfying hunger, thirst and the need for shelter, so they seek out what keeps them alive: food, water, and places to hide. Secondary to survival but still a strong, basic drive is the urge to find other snails in order to reproduce.
As herbivores and occasional scavengers, terrestrial snails are always hungry and constantly in search of food. Because their primary food source—vegetation—is low in calories, they have to keep munching to maintain their metabolisms. Gardeners can attest that snails flock to the tastiest-looking plants growing in their gardens. Snails do show preferences. If offered the choice between a leaf of iceberg lettuce and a pile of fresh spinach, snails tend to choose the spinach. They're drawn to nutrient-dense foods. The deeper the green of the leaf and the more moisture it holds, the more appetizing it appears to a snail. Some favorite garden foods for snails include basil, beans, cabbage, dahlia, delphinium, hosta, lettuce, marigolds and strawberries.
Snails drink with their mouths and absorb water through their skins. If a water supply suddenly becomes available, snails head straight for it to rehydrate. Snails are gastropods, which means they move via their stomach foot. The muscles in the stomach foot ripple, propelling the snail forward. The stomach foot glides across surfaces, lubricated by a layer of mucus the snail produces. Because the snail must constantly produce mucus to stay mobile, it must also keep a supply of H2O at the ready. This is why snails can only thrive in environments where moisture is ample, and they especially congregate near areas like ponds, streams, lakes, even birdbaths and wading pools. Even temporary water sources can draw squadrons of snails—a freshly dampened sidewalk after a soaking rain can quickly become a high-traffic zone, as can an empty flowerpot left out when the garden was watered.
Snails stick to safe places. You don't often find them lounging in the open soaking up sunshine, because an environment like this poses too many threats. Birds and other animals can easily predate on an exposed snail, and direct sunlight can dry out its soft body in a jiffy. Snails are attracted to places where moisture is available and they can hide. They often congregate under tree leaves and ground-covering plants, beneath rocks and logs, and on the undersides of outdoor structures like benches, decks or playground sets. Wherever there's shade and moisture, snails are likely to be.
Terrestrial snails don't follow seasonal mating patterns; instead they mate whenever they're in the mood. When a snail is attracted to another snail it will initiate mating rituals. Snails will often crawl over each other, "kiss," tap one another with their eyestalks, and coil themselves together as part of their reproductive dance. Some of this affection may be displayed to encourage an uninterested partner to participate. Snails may engage in lovemaking for several hours before actual copulation takes place. Overall, snails are pretty good at breeding. Part of the reason they become pest animals is that they can reproduce readily. Another reason is that almost all land snails are hermaphrodites—each snail has both male and female sex organs, so any two snails can mate and reproduce successfully, with both laying eggs.
Madeline Masters works as a dog walker and professional writer. In the past she has worked as a fitness columnist, fundraising copywriter and news reporter. Masters won two Pennsylvania Newspaper Association Awards in 2009. She graduated from Elizabethtown College with a Bachelor of Arts in English.