The courtship among Roman snails is a very interesting thing to witness: Both snails begin by raising their heads and putting their flat foot soles against each other. They touch each other with tentacles and lips while they are swaying gently. As a prelude to the actual copulation this courtship process may last as long as twenty hours. The copulation itself will take a much smaller fraction of time.

After the long and extensive courtship there may be several attempts on copulation. It may so happen that the readiness to mate between two snails is very different, so that the copulation attempts may look more like a wrestling match.

The exact effects of the hormone secretion transferred by the love dart are described together with the respective organs of the genital apparatus.

Body parts and Organs: ( More about body parts and organs)

Mr Keay, a member of Woodchip Conservation, said: "We caught the last offender with two bagfuls of Roman snails - probably close to 15kg (33lb) in weight. So you can imagine how many snails he had - several hundred."

Though it is called a dart, in many languages also an arrow, the Roman snail's love dart is neither thrown nor shot, there is no distance of free flight! Instead it is thrust into the mate's body, more like a dagger, than a dart (see picture on the right!). Sometimes, though, the love dart also misses its target. Than it may come to rest on the mate's body without penetrating it, but it can also happen that one of the two mates is hurt.

The shell is creamy white to light brownish, often with indistinct brown colour bands.[4] The shell has five to six whorls.[4] The aperture is large.[4] The apertural margin is white and slightly reflected in adult snails.[4] The umbilicus is narrow and partly covered by the reflected columellar margin.[4]

Andy Keay recently caught a man with two bags full of the snails.

It is only now that both snails separate. Only little time later they may meet again with other potential mates. A part of the sperm cells just received, however, will be stored in a special sperm pouch. Those sperm cells may then well manage to fertilise egg cells, though they will have to compete with sperm cells of other mating partners also stored in the same pouch.

This snail is hermaphroditic. Reproduction in central Europe begins at the end of May.[4]

When finally both snails managed to find a suitable position, they actually perform copulation. Both penises are entwined and inserted into the mate's vagina. The union successfully completed, both snails stay as they are.

The width of the shell is 30–50 mm.[4] The height of the shell is 30–45 mm.[4]

This spermatophore is almost 10 cm long and is roughly shaped like a thread. Even after it was positioned in the mate's genital apparatus, the tail still looks out of the snail's genital opening.

Roman snails mostly are protected today and picking them from nature is forbidden by law. But both Helix pomatia and its relative, the brown garden snail (Cornu aspersum), are cultivated on snail farms (Hlicicultures). Next to France, also Germany and Switzerland have become a new centre for the ecological, as well as the economical, cultivation of snails.

During the courtship possibly a dart may be applied, one snail stinging it into the mate's foot. This dart has been called love dart, as its application obviously is in direct connection with courtship or mating.

During estivation or hibernation, this species creates a calcareous epiphragm to seal the opening of the shell.

Identification of the Roman snail and its relatives using shell characters.

The Roman snail with a body length of about 10 cm (4 in.) and a shell 5 cm (2 in.) in diameter is the largest European terrestrial snail. Systematically it belongs to the helicid family (Helicidae), a group of rather large terrestrial snails with spherical shells

Helix pomatia, common names the Burgundy snail, Roman snail, edible snail or escargot, is a species of large, edible, air-breathing land snail, a terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusk in the family Helicidae. It is a European species. In the English language it is called by the French name escargot when used in cooking (escargot literally means 'snail'). Although this species is highly prized as a food it is difficult to cultivate and rarely farmed commercially.[3]

The tasty Roman snails, called "Escargots de Bourgogne" in French, probably have been picked to be eaten since prehistoric times. Only picking them more than for personal needs but for sale, has taken the Roman snail just short of extinction. In most countries it was once abundant, the snails today are very rare.

Roman snails, and with them most terrestrial snail species, are hermaphrodites. They have male, as well as female organs in one collective genital apparatus. This organ system not only contains sexual organs in the narrow sense of the word, but also various auxiliary organs, that have respective tasks in different periods during mating.

clade Euthyneura clade Panpulmonata clade Eupulmonata clade Stylommatophora informal group Sigmurethra

"So we have good very good populations, whereas in their natural countryside in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, they've been eaten out."

By means of the love dart a secretion is injected, that is produced by the finger shaped glands in the genital apparatus. This secretion contains hormones, that influence certain parts of the genital apparatus and that way improve the reproductive chances of the snail that applied the dart. : Koene, J.; Chase, R. (1998).

Mr Keay said: "They are very big and on the continent they are the one species that the continentals love eating.

They believe the stolen snails were destined to be consumed as "escargot" in the restaurant trade.

"After we caught the chap stealing them we returned those snails to the site, but obviously somebody else has been back in because this area has now been stripped of the Roman snails," he said.

Roman snails are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, but volunteers at Chipstead Downs have caught people taking the snails.

Research has found out, that the application of a love dart does not at all only influence a snail's behaviour.

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This is why the two snails remain motionless for a certain time after completing of the copulation: The spermatophore's application in the mate's genital apparatus must be supported; an early interruption of the union may disrupt the spermatophore and thus render useless the hours of toil included in a standard snail courtship.

This article incorporates public domain text from the reference.[4]

Roman Snail

Roman snails are hermaphrodites, the are males and females at the same time. Mating among Roman snails is introduced by an extensive courtship, during which the mates may sting each other with a so-called love dart. A Roman snail's eggs are about 2 mm in diameter and are laid in an earth hole dug by the snail in early summer.

The visceral sac is shaped like a sack and located on the snail's back. It contains, as its name says, many of the snail's internal organs. It never leaves the protecting shell. Anyway it is protected to the outside by a tissue layer called the mantle, which also produces the shell. The mantle is especially thick and study in the shell mouth or aperture. There is one large hole in it leading into the mantle cavity beyond, in which a network of blood vessels serves for respiration.

It is not in every mating process, that a love dart is applied. To be precise, that is not even possible! Roman snails mate, whenever possible, but the replication of a love dart needs sometimes more time, than remains between two mating encounters.

Fertilisation, though, only happens, when it is time to lay eggs. That finally will happen, provided the environmental conditions are favourable and there is a place where the eggs can be deposited in a special hole in the ground.

Inter-species mating between a Roman snail (Helix pomatia) and a grove snail (Cepaea nemoralis). Pictures: Christian Gagelmann.

Now, a sperm packet, a so-called spermatophore, is produced in either snail's body and afterwards filled with sperm cells.

Eggs are laid in June and July, in clutches of 40–65 eggs.[4] The size of the egg is 5.5–6.5 mm[4] or 8.6 × 7.2 mm.[10] Juveniles hatch after three to four weeks, and may consume their siblings under unfavourable climate conditions.[4] Maturity is reached after two to five years.[4] The life span is up to 20 years.[4] Ten-year-old individuals are probably not uncommon in natural populations.[4] The maximum lifespan is 35 years.[4]

Roman snails can become very old for a snail. To be able to survive that long, they have to hibernate, which they do by closing their shell mouth with a calcareous lid and by hiding in an earth hole they have dug themselves before. During hibernation most body functions are largely reduced and after waking up the snail is severely dehydrated and famished.