April 12, 2024
The mystery of an epic snail gathering -- plus queries about squirrels

DEAR JOAN: While hiking in Sunnyvale’s Baylands Park, I ran across something I’d never seen before – a virtual snail convention with dozens of snails clustered together on a fence post. Have you seen or heard of anything like this? If so, what causes this phenomenon?

— Doug Sheaffer, Sunnyvale

DEAR DOUG: You stumbled across a meeting of the GOMP (the Grand Old Mollusk Party). The snails are gathering in small enclaves around the world to choose candidates for the upcoming mollusk emperor election. It’s an exciting time.

OK, back to reality. The snails were trying to stay alive during a heatwave, and they did it in a very interesting fashion. Snails depend on moisture to stay alive, so when it’s hot and dry, they can literally wither away.

To preserve the moisture in their shells, they climb to higher perches and seal their shells with a thick mucus called an epiphragm. The goo not only keeps the snail moist in its shell, but also adheres the shell to whatever object it’s chosen for its temporary summer retreat.

I have no idea why they do it in clusters, but perhaps snails see one snail doing it and think, “Hey, must be a good place to glue myself,” and join the growing crowd. By lowering their metabolics, the snails can stay in a stage of dormancy for up to four months.

DEAR JOAN: Which is better for squirrels and birds? Water from the house that contains salt from the water softener or water from the hose that does not contain salt? My husband says it doesn’t matter.

— M.R., squirrel and bird lover, Morgan Hill

DEAR M: The experts agree with your husband. Water that is safe for humans is also safe for pets and wildlife, so it doesn’t really matter which they get. The exception: pets that are on a restricted salt diet. Water with salt also shouldn’t be used in most freshwater aquariums.

The birds and squirrels don’t have a preference one way or another.

During heat waves, I always get asked whether we should be putting out water for wildlife. If you normally have birdbaths, by all means, keep them filled and clean, but don’t otherwise set out buckets of water for deer and other wild animals. That would attract them to your home and neighborhood and could easily lead to other issues. Not all people like wild animals wandering through their yards, the animals could be hit by cars, and you might attract larger predators who are stalking the animals you’re luring close to your home.

DEAR JOAN: Please let Mattie from San Jose know that the squirrels she is missing in her neighborhood have moved to mine. They are alive and well and an absolute delight to watch, along with several resident crows, birds and an occasional hawk or two.

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We refresh water bowls regularly to keep the whole lot hydrated and maintain a clean birdbath all year long. The fresh water may help since the population seems to grow year over year.

— KC, San Jose

DEAR KC: So that’s where they went. Maybe you could tell a couple of them that Mattie misses them and has some special treats waiting for their return.

Animal Life runs on Mondays. Reach Joan Morris at [email protected].