Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and the stores are full of pink cards and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. One of the iconic images of this season is of winged Cupid with his bow and quiver of arrows. Did you ever wonder where this image came from? I just assumed it was simply another one of those ancient Greek and Roman myths.
Then I learned the myth may have been inspired by snails, specifically, by their courtship behavior. Why snails? Why not some cuddly creature like a puppy or kitten? After all, snails are hermaphrodites, that is, they possess both male and female reproductive organs. And snails are definitely not monogamous.
Snails do, however, make “love darts”. During courtship and mating, some species of snails push these “love darts” into each other’s feet. Click here to see an example of a love dart embedded in a snail.
In her book, “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating”, author, Elisabeth Tova Bailey describes these love darts as hollow arrows “crafted by the very finest of artisans”. These love darts (technically known as gypsobelum) are about “1 and 30 mm in length and are made of calcium carbonate, chitin or cartilage”. Click here to see magnified images of darts from various species of snails.
But why would snails do that? To what purpose? Several hypotheses have been suggested:
1) The chemicals contained in the dart signals the snail is ready to mate or to lay eggs. It’s the human equivalent of applying perfume or aftershave.
Nope – mating can occur even if the dart misses.
2) The darts that are made of calcium “might be a nuptial gift, providing an extra source of calcium for egg production.” It’s the human equivalent of a gift of candy or flowers.
Nope – researchers found “that the dart is rarely internalized by the recipient, and little calcium could enter the body in this way.”
3) The darts can improve the snail’s chances of fertilization.
Yup – because snails mate are not monogamous, competition for fertilization occurs not only among various mates, but also among their sperm. The mucus that clings to the surface of the dart contains a chemical that increases the sperm’s chances of survival, perhaps as much as doubling it’s chances of fertilization.
Maybe we could learn something from those snails. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting that you take your sweetie to an archery range to celebrate Valentine’s Day. But perhaps a pair of pierced earrings….hmmm?
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, January 30; February 6, 13, 20, & 27.
Saturday mornings, February 2 & 16.
Saturday, February 16, 8:00 – 10:00 AM. “Wild Birds of February” at Towsley Canyon. Meet in the front parking lot at the gate. Click here for a map and directions.
Saturday, February 23, 2:30-4:30 PM. “The Earliest Wildflowers” at Towsley Canyon. Meet in the parking lot at the gate. Click here for a map and directions.
New trail maps available. If you’d like to explore a bit on your own, the City of Santa Clarita has a website with trail maps of our local open spaces: http://hikesantaclarita.com/.
There’s also a new website for bicycle riders. http://bikesantaclarita.com
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The SCV Outdoor Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
Or check out our Facebook page – L.A. Mountains.