Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Largest Native Land Snail in the Appalachians

The Whitelip, an enormous land snail
A live Helix aspersa crawling across two empty Whitelip shells
The Whitelip (Neohelix albolabris) is a treat to observe in its native Northern Hardwood Forest. On a humid, cool morning, you may see a large, spiral-patterned brown pebble sitting or crawling on the ground. Upon flipping the pebble over, you may see an empty cavity surrounded by a white rim, or a slimy blob retracted in the apparent snail shell. "What kind of snail is this?" is a logical question to be asking mentally. Well, it is a Whitelip. The Whitelip is a large and peaceful snail, feeding on mushrooms and maybe some low vegetation and is not bothered by many predators. Moles and shrews are the main attackers of the Whitelip, ambushing it from underground with needle-like teeth. Whitelips, as well as many other snails, will also feed on carrion and droppings, making them important for cleaning the environment. And if you are sweaty, most snails like the small quantities of salt (probably gastropod thrill-seekers) that is found in human sweat. By placing a Whitelip snail in your hand, you can feel a calcareous plate scrape the salts and oils off of your skin. Be sure to make sure there is moisture on your hands as well, snails get dry and sticky very easily. Other than that, the Whitelip is a mostly harmless highland snail. Oh, and ingesting a non-purged snail or its slime can transmit deadly diseases. Be careful. In fact, all snails are edible to some extent if purged and cooked well. Still, only snails in the genus Helix such as the invasive Common European Brown Garden Snail (Helix aspersa) are really any good as food to modern knowledge. Some highland gardeners and mushroom hunters are mad at Whitelips for eating their desired foods or food sources. Whitelips are an overall good species though, and it is mostly snails like the Common European Brown Garden Snail that do damage. Whitelips enjoy white pines and rhododendron underbrush. Happy Trails, Critter Cade

Two nicely sized living Whitelip specimens

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