Ever seen a hairy snail? Last evening I was out with the local natural history group on a scrubby ex industrial site dodging the showers when I came across one of the little beasties. Well tiny might be a better description as they are about the size of a small fingernail, I only noticed it as I was on the ground lining up another, much larger, brown lipped snail for a photo.
Snails are the next big thing at least for a bunch of evolutionary biologists who are putting together a website to be launched in a couple of months. The general public will be able to enter their records of different striping patterns and colours of brown lipped snails (the common stripy ones you get in gardens). Thousands of records of this type of snail going back 100 years have been collected and they now want to see if the numbers of different forms of this snail have changed, perhaps as the result of the decline in the numbers of their predators such as the song thrush.
One of the people in the natural history group spotted the dark brown form of the snail which I was delighted to see as they are supposed to be rare in this part of the country (Milton Keynes), they are commoner in Ireland. I explained this and she was very proud to have found it, but then lots of other people started finding them too and were joking that we had been transported to Ireland without realising.
I have now told the experts about the site and we will have to look at it more carefully, perhaps it is just the particular mix of bushy habitats that have developed at the site which favour the brown form. Or, more interestingly, perhaps there has been a general country wide change in the frequencies of the different types since the last big surveys which were done quite a few years ago.