Hillsborough resident Julie writes: “I finally figured out who’s eating my lettuces, and I’m not amused. It is these horrible brown snails. Surely your love of animals does not extend to them?”
The ubiquitous Bay Area garden snail is no lowlife, Julie. This is the very same escargot gourmands crave drizzled with butter and garlic served with a chilled Pinot Gris (all hail Julia Child!). Native to Western Europe and the Mediterranean, different tales have them either purposely introduced here (a food product plan obviously gone awry) or an accidental import. Either way, the little brown mollusks are not native and, like weeds, have certainly gotten out of control.
Some animals hibernate when it’s too cold, and snails estivate when conditions are too dry. But that can only last so long. The recent drought likely killed off many since their survival is dependent on moisture. The wet garden soil you kindly provide is what they crave, along with those leafy lettuces. Pre-drought, I can recall whole lawns covered with these creatures. Do expect a rebound if our weather is back to normal, since Cornu aspersum are prolific as well as true hermaphrodites who can go it alone when the need arises.
Copper bands placed around your plantings will repel them, as will coffee grounds (caffeinated only, decaf has no effect). Make a snail trap by burying the bottom half of a plastic juice or milk carton with the top level to the soil; fill with a few inches of beer (we may like them with wine but they prefer Bud) and the snails will crawl in and drown. You do need to remove the dead ones every day. Please avoid snail “bait,” a poison which not only kills snails but also wildlife and pets who may eat dying snails.
Do I love them? That’s a strong emotion. Let’s just say I think they’re interesting but do wish they’d stayed at home. C’est la vie!
Ken White is the president of the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA.