Flipping Snails.

An interesting side effect of owning an aquarium is that you end up running a “Life Alert” program for snails.

Half the ones I own cannot right themselves when they fall off the glass and land upside down in the sand. (Trochus, in particular, have cone-shaped shells that spike into the substrate on impact, leaving the snail to wave its foot in a futile attempt to attract attention and aid.)

In the beginning this didn’t bother me. I checked the tank every morning and righted the unfortunates, happy to rescue them from a slow and unpleasant death.  But after the ninth consecutive week of righting marooned mollusks, I admit my enthusiasm has waned.

Not that I don’t enjoy getting shoulder-deep into tepid salt water to play tiddlywinks with a creature that has roughly the intelligence of soap. Really. I particularly enjoy the days when my t-shirt sleeve slips into the water unnoticed and wicks up half a gallon of brine while I’m otherwise engaged. There’s just something about clammy cotton against the skin that makes a good deed feel that much better.


It occurred to me that I might be doing the little guys a favor by letting them flail. Perhaps it would teach the others to look before they leap. After all, if we cull the clumsy ones out of the herd, it might make the others think twice about that quick-release trip to the sand. That is, if they had the capacity to think.  Or reason. Or process thoughts beyond “food, mouth, whoops.”

Unfortunately, Phylum mollusca isn’t known for its reasoning skills.

The last several weeks have taught me why most aquarium keepers prefer janitors like the Cerith and the Nassarius, whose shells enable them to flip over and self-rescue when things go vertically wrong. (Nassarius also have an entertaining habit of burying in the sand and bursting up at feeding time in a Night-of-the-Living-Dead-esque parade of slow motion scavengers, but I digress.)

Still, until the current residents die of natural causes (which don’t include stupidity, no matter how much I’d like to give them an object lesson in why the competent survive) I’ll stay on duty and on task.  Chief cook, bottle-washer, mollusk-flipper and snail saver, at your service.

Have you ever ended up with an unexpected side-job? Flip into the comments and let me know.

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