Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Land Snails
Nature Bulletin No. 378-A    April 18, 1970
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

If you are looking for a hobby in a field that is not overcrowded -- one that you can pursue both indoors and out-of-doors whenever the spirit moves you; one that uses only simple inexpensive equipment and requires no special skill or training to get started -- may we suggest Land Snails. Either as a pastime or as a serious problem in scientific research, their collection and study has a long and honorable tradition. Even an amateur has a chance to discover something new and original.

Land snails may be found almost anywhere, occasionally in dry places, but a damp woodland is perhaps their favorite habitat Different kinds abound in Illinois from the highest hills to the deepest valleys and, curiously enough, with the advance of civilization many of the prairie species have taken refuge along railroad embankments. As many as 15 kinds, ranging from pinhead size to an inch or more across, may be found in and around a single rotting log. Other likely spots are under boards, rocks and fallen leaves, or in old brush piles. They may be found crawling over vegetation or tree trunks. A good collector looks everywhere. The best times are after rainy periods in spring or summer but snails also can be found in winter under the debris of a forest floor or, by a little patient digging, around stumps. Even their empty shells can help fill out your collection.

Now, suppose you turn over a rotten old log and see what is underneath. Beetles, spiders, bugs, centipedes and salamanders all scamper into hiding. Earthworms jerk their heads back into burrows but a few animals, like insect larvae, do not run away. Neither do the snails with their spiral shells, nor the slugs which are really snails with only a flake of shell imbedded in the soft flesh. Tear off a piece of loose bark and on the inner side you may find snail shells of several different sizes, shapes and colors -- round or long, ridged or smooth, opaque or transparent, black or yellow, and some with stripes, spots or zigzag markings. All you need to take care of your catch are a few wide-mouthed bottles and vials, a can, and a pair of tweezers to handle the tiny ones. Then, please, turn the log back again so it may produce a new crop.

Next you naturally ask, "What species have I got?" Fortunately, there is a pocket-size manual entitled, "Fieldbook of Illinois Land Snails", written by Frank Collins Baker after a lifelong study of them published by the Illinois Natural History Survey at Urbana. In this little book, each of the 122 species and races found in Illinois is pictured and briefly described. A simple key makes it possible to identify your snails without poring through the entire book. A well-written introduction explains -- better than we could here -- the anatomy, life history and habits of land snails: how they spend winters and survive droughts, on what they feed, and where they lay their eggs. Simple directions tell how to clean and label the shells; how to keep notes and care for your growing collection.

Many eminent scientists have studied Illinois land snails. Chief among them was Thomas Say of New Harmony, Indiana, more than a century ago, who described and gave names to over 30 species. Large collections are preserved in museums where specialists and amateurs go to compare notes. Many Illinois naturalists, no longer living, left interesting accounts of this snail hobby but new recruits are needed to fill their shoes.

So, if you decide to be a Conchologist, good hunting!

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