Valentine’s Day is based on St. Valentine who secretly married couples to spare the men from going to war. So how did snails or cupid become involved? Turns out that when snails mate, they use love darts that they shoot at their love interest. Some believe that this bizarre mating ritual is where the idea of Cupid came from.
Cupid shoots arrows in people’s butts to make them fall in love. Snails do the exactly same thing! All snails happen to be hermaphrodites so when two snails mate, they can both become pregnant at the same time. Their darts play an important part in this ritual.
“Snail darts are covered with a secretion that closes off blind alleys in the egg-fertilising machinery of the dartee, ensuring the sperm of the darter goes to good use. Snails often mate with several partners before laying eggs, and it is thought the dart’s coating also serves to reduce the chance of re-mating, perhaps by causing more sperm to be stored.”The Economist
If cupid shoots one person in the butt and not the other, there may be a sad case of unrequited love. Does it work the same way with snails? Apparently not!
“… mating can continue perfectly successfully when the dart misses, or if no darts are fired. Snails mate many times, and can only produce a dart every week or so, so inevitably some encounters will be dart-free.”Nature.com
Cupid is popular in both Greek and Roman mythology. In both, he is the son of the goddess of love. There are many depictions of Cupid as a baby in a diaper. There are also silly ones of him as an older, hairier man still in a diaper. Many show him blindfolded, because love is blind! In all these depictions he has a bow and heart-shaped arrow.
In the world of snails, the arrows or darts that the snails produce can vary in size. They are also unique to different species and can be used to help identify them.
“The love dart (gypsobelum) can be between 1 and 30 mm in length and are made of calcium carbonate, chitin or cartilage. Their fine construction also makes it possible to tell apart even closely related snail groups.”Molluscs.at
So there you go! Snails may be slimy but they are also romantic. Fun fact, Isaac and I had a snail cake for our wedding!