The Cellar glass-snail, Oxychilus cellarius, is one of the smaller and more colorful snails visible after the rain. Photo by Gregory Han

The cellar glass-snail, Oxychilus cellarius, is one of the smaller and more colorful snails visible after the rain in parts of Southern California. Photo by Gregory Han

The winter rains have arrived in Southern California, bringing with it clean skies and green hillsides.  The welcome water nourishes our parched plants and cleans the grey dirt of city life off their leaves. After a good wash, the city sparkles, coming to life.

The rain also brings to the surface a large number of terrestrial gastropods, the snails and slugs that streak across our paths, or sometimes crunch under our feet if we forget to tread carefully. Los Angeles is home to hundreds of different kinds of gastropods, and the Los Angeles Natural History Museum (NHM) needs your help identifying them.  They have called upon Citizen Scientists to help identify species around town through Instagram, iNaturalist, or over email.

Why do gastropods matter?  They are an important part of our ecosystem, assisting in the breakdown of plant material and adding nutrients to the soil.  They are also food for birds and mammals.

Photo by Katherine Montgomery

Photo by Katherine Montgomery

Snails are usually solo travelers that avoid the sun, seeking out damp quarters under rocks or dead leaves. They are hermaphrodites with both male and female reproductive organs, but mating is still required. Both participants are fertilized and each lay their own eggs, with hatchlings taking about a year or two to mature. Snails are born with their homes on their backs, and they grow with them thanks to a diet high in calcium. They have two sets of antennae, the larger of which are actually their ‘eye stalks’.  The shorter antennae are olfactory organs, used to sniff out their surroundings. Both sets of tentacles can be retracted, and snails are quick to hide in their shells when touched. Thankfully, they are not camera shy.

Identifying snails can be tricky, but there are several guides to help you know if that snail originally hails from Italy, Africa, or California. Take a picture and post your photos with the hashtag #slime (Snails and slugs Living In Metropolitan Environments) and #SnailBlitz to add your data to this snail survey.

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