Can a snail teach us life lessons?

Observing nature is a wonderful way of not only dealing with difficult times, but also for learning more about ourselves and the world we inhabit.

Listen here for the latest episode of the BBC Earth Podcast. Learn about Galapagos land iguanas and how author Elisabeth Bailey found solace from the tiniest and slowest of friends.

A snail is a superhero.”

Elisabeth BaileyAuthor
Article continues below

More on Nature

Did you know that a Neohelix albolabris - more commonly known as a woodland snail - has 2,462 teeth?

“The teeth are tiny and they’re little rows,” says the author Elisabeth Bailey. “If you can imagine one of those incredible escalators...that are 3 storeys down into the ground, the escalator of teeth was like a grater and they would literally grate away at the food as they came down on to the food.”

The reason Bailey became so well acquainted with such minute details about this tiny creature is because, for a year, a Neohelix albolabris was her constant companion.

At the age of 34, Bailey was struck down by a mystery illness that doctors could not explain. It left her bedridden and she, in her own words, “would have felt better if I had lived on the moon, because the moon has lower gravity and it would have been easier for my heart to pump blood in a lower gravity atmosphere.”

As Bailey’s ability to move halted, she had little choice but to join life in the slow lane with the woodland snail that a friend had left on her bedside table.

“A snail is a superhero,” says Bailey.

Snail on a tree
A snail can glide vertically right up a tree trunk or a wall. © Eduard Lysenko | Getty

“They’ve had a much longer time to evolve safe survival mechanisms and they will probably be on Earth much longer than humans will, as well. It has strength many times its weight. A snail can glide vertically right up a tree trunk or a wall - it can even glide upside down across a ceiling or the underside of a branch.

“No human with that equipment can possibly go vertically up a wall, let alone hang from the ceiling.” On the days in which Bailey was unable to participate in the human world, she immersed herself in the world of the snail.

In the silence of the space they both inhabited, she could hear the snail eating. She noticed her companions' habits, such as its tendency to sleep during the day and adventure at night.

And it was during this year of slowing down and noticing that the snail taught Bailey an important lesson.

“This little animal had been removed from its habitat...and it was able to adapt.”

“Its ability to adapt gave me hope that somehow I would eventually find a way to adapt to my illness.”

Featured image © Ekaterina Misenko | EyeEm | Getty

glow worms

BBC Earth Podcast

Close your eyes and open your ears

Intimate stories and surprising truths about nature, science and the human experience in a podcast the size of the planet.