Helix (genus)

name = Helix

image_width = 230px
image_caption = Garden snail ("Helix aspersa") on "Limonium"
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Mollusca
classis = Gastropoda
ordo = Pulmonata
familia = Helicidae
genus = "Helix"
genus_authority = Linnaeus, 1758
subdivision_ranks = Species
subdivision = See text.

"Helix" is a genus of terrestrial pulmonate snails native to Europe and the regions around the Mediterranean Sea. "Helix" snails have been introduced throughout the world, where some, especially "H. aspersa", have become garden pests.

"Helix" is the type genus of the family Helicidae.

The best known species include "Helix aspersa" the Common, or Brown Garden Snail, and "Helix pomatia", the Escargot, Roman Snail, Burgundy Snail, or Edible Snail.

Snails in this genus produce and use love darts.


*"Helix albescens" Rossmaessler, 1839
*"Helix aperta" Born, 1778
*"Helix aspersa" Müller, 1774 - Brown Garden Snail, Common Garden Snail
*"Helix ceratina" (Shuttleworth, 1843) [Bouchet, P. 1996. Helix ceratina. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. . Downloaded on 2 April 2007. http://www.iucnredlist.org/search/details.php/9843/summ]
*"Helix engaddenis" Bourguinat, 1852
*"Helix godetiana" [Mylonas, M. 1996. Helix godetiana. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. . Downloaded on 2 April 2007. http://www.iucnredlist.org/search/details.php/9844/summ]
*"Helix lucorum" Linnaeus, 1758
*"Helix lutescens" Rossmässler, 1837
*"Helix melanostomata" Draparnaud, 1801
*"Helix obruta" Morelet, 1860 [Frias-Martin, A. 1996. Helix obruta. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. . Downloaded on 2 April 2007. http://www.iucnredlist.org/search/details.php/9845/summ]
*"Helix pomatia" Linnaeus, 1758 - Burgundy Snail, Roman Snail, Edible Snail
*"Helix texta" Mousson, 1861 [Heller, J. 1996. Helix texta. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. . Downloaded on 2 April 2007. http://www.iucnredlist.org/search/details.php/9846/summ]
*"Helix vermiculata"

Comment: Some taxonomists remove the following species "Helix aperta", "Helix aspersa", and "Helix vermiculata" from genus "Helix" and place them in their own monotypic genera as "Cantareus apertus", "Cornu aspersum" [ [http://www.weichtiere.at/english/gastropoda/terrestrial/escargot/cornu.html The Cornu Problem] ] and "Eobania vermiculata". "Helix subplicata" is a synonym for "Idiomela subplicata".

External features

In addition to the hard calcareous shell that covers and protects the internal organs, the head and foot region can be observed when the snails are fully extended. When they are active, the organs such as the lung, heart, kidney and intestines remain inside the shell; only the head and foot emerge.

The head of the snail has two pairs of tentacles: the upper and larger pair contain the eyes, and the lower pair are used to feel the ground in front. The mouth is located just underneath the head. The tentacles can be withdrawn or extended depending on the situation. The mouth has a unique tongue called a "radula" that is composed of many fine chitinous teeth. This serves for rasping and cutting food.

From April and throughout the summer, the number of snails copulating increases due to the high temperature and humidity which enhances the possibility of oviposition. The Pulmonate snails are hermaphroditic, meaning that both female and male sexual organs are present in the same individual. The snails produce both eggs and sperm in the ovotetis (also called the hermaphrodite gland), but it is later separated into two divisions, a sperm duct and oviduct, respectively.

Mating takes several hours, sometimes a day. "H. aspersa" snails stab a calcite spine, termed a "love dart" at their partner, which contains a chemical that enables more than twice as many sperm to survive inside the recipient. A few days after mating, the eggs are laid in the soil. They are usually 4-6 mm in diameter.

After snails are hatched from the egg, they mature through one or more years. It depends on where the organism lives. Maturity takes two years in Southern California, while it takes only ten months in South Africa.

The size of the adult snails slightly varies with species. "H. aspersa" grows up to 35 mm in height and width, whereas "H. pomatia" grows up to 45 mm. The life span of snails in the wild is on average two or three years.

Some snails may live longer, perhaps even 30 years or older in the case of the Roman snail [ [http://www.weichtiere.at/Mollusks/Schnecken/weinberg.html The Roman Snail, "Helix pomatia"] ] but most live less than 8 years. Many deaths are due to predators and parasites.

The garden snail is a relatively fast snail. It has been observed to reach speeds of up to 1.3 cm/s. [cite web|url=http://hypertextbook.com/facts/AngieYee.shtml|title=Speed of a Snail|first=Angie|last=Yee|year=1999|work=The Physics Factbook]


Since snails in the genus "Helix" are terrestrial rather than fresh-water or marine, they have developed a simple lung for respiration. (Most other snails and gastropods have gills, instead.)

Oxygen is carried by the blood pigment hemocyanin. Both oxygen and carbon dioxide diffuse in and out of blood through the capillaries. A muscular valve regulates the process of opening and closing the entrance of the lung. When the valve opens, the air can either leave or come into the lung. The valve plays an important role in reducing water loss and preventing drowning.


Snails prefer cool, damp environments, as they easily suffer from moisture loss. Snails are most active at night and after rainfall. During unfavourable conditions, a snail will remain inside its shell, usually under rocks or other hiding places to avoid being discovered by predators. In dry climates snails will naturally congregate near water sources, including artificial sources such as waste-water outlets of air conditioners.

The common garden snail ("Helix aspersa") is herbivorous. These snails are able to digest most vegetation including carrots and lettuce. They also have a specialized crop of symbiotic bacteria that aid in their digestion, especially with the breakdown of the polysaccharide cellulose into simple sugars.

There are many predators, both specialist and generalist, that feed on snails. Some animals, such as the song thrush, break the shell of the snail by hammering it against a hard object, such as stone, in order to expose its edible insides. Other predators, such as some species of frogs, circumvent the need to break snail shells by simply swallowing the snail whole, shell and all.

Some carnivorous species of snails, such as the decollate snail, and the rosy wolf snail, "Euglandia rosea", also prey on "Helix" snails. Such carnivorous snails are also commercially grown and sold in order to combat pest snail species. Many of these also escape into the wild, where they prey on indigenous snails, such as the Cuban land snails of the genus "Polymita", and the indigenous snails of Hawaii.

Edible snails

"H. pomatia" and "H. aspersa" are the two edible species most used in European cuisine. Spanish cuisine also uses "Otala punctata", "Theba pisana" and "Iberus gualterianus alonensis", amongst others. Escargots are snails served in a traditional way as appetizers. They may also be used as ingredients in other recipes.

Snails contain many nutrients and are very rich in calcium and also contain vitamin B1 and E. They also supply various kinds of essential amino acids. Also, they are low in calories and fat.

ee also



External links

* [http://www.petsnails.co.uk/ Helix snails in captivity]

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