Williamson's Weekly Nature Notes December 31 2008

BINGE-drinking is not confined to teenagers. Snails like to go on a bender too. Here is a whole gang of them which I photographed near Peppering High Barn high up on the downs overlooking Arundel.

Now what sort of booze were these naughty molluscs after? Well for want of a better name, I called it sycamore sack.

You may remember how various sherries and white wines imported from Spain and the Canaries were called sack centuries ago from the French vin sec, meaning dry wine. Pepys described how he buried all his sack in his garden at the time of the fire of London in 1666 you may remember.

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A lone sycamore on a footpath which I passed on my walk had evidently been damaged sometime in its history and the wound had never properly healed up. The resulting seepage of sap had started to ferment.

This gives off a heady message to anything downwind such as butterflies, moths, flies, and in this case, common garden snails. No doubt they not only visit the pub but spend the days and nights there too, a convenient hostelry and safe from winter winds as the snails were all on the south side of the tree.

Of course they soon go into hibernation at the onset of winter but what better place than the pub. I have known several people over the years who have done the same both in Dublin and London's Fulham road, haunts of itinerant artists, writers, and all other scribblers who need to earn honest pennies for their pints even if they had little left to pay the landlady or the butchers' bills

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The snails rather reminded me of those motley crews who slid from one unremarkable job to another in the years gone by. In the case of Helix aspersa shown here you will note most are last summer's youngsters.

There are several parents too, and I feel these should have known better because actually the whole gang are vulnerable to predators. I have known foxes to eat garden snails, and thrushes seek them before any other delicacy.

But they seem fairly safe from agriculture as much of this farmland is a FWAG conservation zone where corn buntings, lapwings, grey partridges and skylarks among other birds are being encouraged to return again after the pesticide blitzekrieg of recent years.

Happy New Year to them all and yourselves as well and go steady on the sack.