With the green vegetation sprouting along the roadsides and over the grasslands, creatures from large to small are on the move. A few days ago, and within minutes of leaving the lodge, we noticed movement on the road. A giant African land snail glistened in the morning light.
Like almost all pulmonate gastropods, these snails are hermaphrodites, having male and female sex organs. Although giant African land snails primarily mate with one another, in more isolated regions they are capable of reproducing on their own. Giant African land snails lay around six clutches of eggs every year, laying an average of 200 eggs per clutch – that amounts to about 1 200 eggs per year! What is really incredible is that around 90% of snail hatchings survive.
Giant African land snails are active during the night and spend the daytime hours safely buried underground. They reach their adult size by the time they are six months old and although their growth rate slows at this point, they never stop growing. Most reach between five and six years of age but some individuals have been known to be more than ten years old. The giant African land snail seals itself inside its shell to retain water. They do this about three times a year, depending on the areas which they inhabit. During periods of extreme drought, they practice aestivation which is a type of ‘summer sleep’.
Driving along looking in various directions for a twitch of an ear or a flicking tail, your eyes scan through the bush up and down, left and right. Often when looking for something large and obvious you miss the smaller treasures, without even realising it.
This description of an encounter with a giant snail by Ross Couper first appeared in the November 2013 Wildlife Report from Singita Sabi Sand. The monthly ranger diaries are written by the field guides themselves and contain plenty of delightful stories and stunning photographs from the bush. You can catch up on the Wildlife Reports from all the Singita lodges and camps here.