Snails and slugs are small, squidgy, slimy, soft-bodied crawling creatures. They belong to a huge group of animals called molluscs which have no skeleton. Squid and oysters are also molluscs.
Snails and slugs are gastropods, a group that also includes whelks and winkles.
Gastropod means ‘stomach foot’, because these animals seem to slide along on their stomachs.
Most gastropods live in the sea. They include limpets which stick firmly to seashore rocks.
Most land snails and slugs ooze a trail of sticky slime to help them move along the ground.
Garden snails are often hermaphrodites, which means they have both male and female sex organs.
The great grey slugs of Western Europe court by circling each other for over an hour on a branch, then launching themselves into the air to hang from a long trail of mucus. They then mate for 7 to 24 hours.
Among the largest gastropods are the tropical tritons, whose 45–cm shells are sometimes used as warhorns. Conches are another big kind of gastropod.
Some cone snails in the Pacific and Indian oceans have teeth that can inject a poison which can actually kill people.
Garden snails have a shell which they seal themselves into in dry weather, making a kind of trapdoor to save moisture. They have eyes on their horns.
Snails are a great delicacy in France, where they are called escargot.