Animals adapt to their circumstances. Some creatures, like the snail, take this to extremes. So as not to dry out and to protect themselves against their enemies, these special little creatures not only live 24/24 in their small house, they also carry it around with them on their back. How many animals can say the same? This tale tells how this curious situation arose.
One day King Red Deer threw a large party for all the animals in his kingdom. There was good reason to celebrate: his wife had just given birth to twins, which is highly exceptional for deer. All the animals had been invited to come and admire the two newborn fawns. Taking centre stage with his impressive antlers, King Red Deer mingled with his guests, graciously accepting the shower of congratulations – almost as if he himself had given birth to them.
Still a little pale from actually giving birth, the queen was clearly touched by this enormous celebration for the newborns. “Everybody has come to congratulate us,” she noted happily. “But of course, my love. That goes without saying. I am the king,” responded Red Deer. Naturally, the stoat put in an appearance along with the blackbird, the seal and the squirrel. Not to mention the spider, the wild boar and the mouse.
The king was happily observing his subjects bustling around, enjoying themselves, when he suddenly cried out to his wife, brimming with indignation: “They haven’t all come. I’m missing one creature! The snail isn’t here. How dare he simply not turn up? It’s not only impolite…it’s…well…how should I put it…it’s downright impertinent!”
The roe heard this, sensed problems brewing for the snail and hurried over to the stone under which the snail was living. “Why didn’t you come?” asked the deer. “You are offending the king!”
“Yes, but, roe, I prefer to be at home on my own. I don’t like being outside in the fields. With the bright sun and the heat I dry out. It also takes me so long to simply get anywhere. On top of which I’m always scared I won’t be able to find my home again among all the leaves. And you know how shy I am in the company of all those bubbly busy animals. No, roe, I simply prefer not to come.
The roe asked the mysterious water bat which flies soundlessly hither and thither in the twilight hours. Rumour had it that he could make miracles happen.
“Well, I really feel for the snail,” peeped the bat, ” I’m none too fond of busy gatherings myself and I made a swift exit once I’d congratulated the king on his young.” He paused to reflect for a moment and then quickly came with a solution: “I’ve an idea. I can see to it that he always has his house with him wherever he goes.”
Amazed at this, the snail quietly rasped: “Well, if that’s possible, bat, I’d be extremely grateful.” To his absolute amazement the mollusc felt how a stone house at once began growing around him. Like a coat, a tailor-made coat.
“From now on you’ll feel at home everywhere, snail. Wherever you go, you’ll have your house with you. You’ll no longer need to be frightened about drying out. And you’ll never get lost again.”
The snail thanked the water bat. He attached himself to the doe’s hoof and together they made their way over to the king. Everyone was stunned by the bat’s solution for the snail, which is why the shy snail nevertheless became the centre of attention.
Snails are active at night and whenever it rains. Most snails live in water. Land snails mainly consist of water. They have a slimy skin which stops them from drying out. That is why they live in damp places with dense vegetation. In very dry spells and in the winter they close up the entrance to their shell with a layer of slime containing calcium, leaving a small opening for oxygen. Snails are important clearer uppers in the natural world: they deal with dead leaves and dead earth worms. They have a mouth with several thousand horn-like teeth which they use to scrape off thin layers of tissue from their food. If you listen carefully you can actually hear them scraping away. They move by gliding over their own slime. When their shell gets too small, a new layer of chalk grows at its base, increasing its size. Snails can reach the age of 7, but more often they’re eaten up at an earlier age by other animals such as birds, frogs and snakes.
© Els Baars, Natuurverhalen.nl