A Landrace of Snails

Snail Race by psykle

A Landrace of Snails
 
The Roman snail was bred for the eating,
Bred by the Romans on gastropod farms –
Bred to be fatter and bred to be sweeter,
Bred for behaviour and oozing with charms !
Red shells and blue shells, thoroughly adaptable,
With endless potential curled-up inside –
Many shapes of eye-stalk, fully retractable,
And you should see how speedily these beauties can glide !
 
“You join us at the Coliseum, bursting to capacity,
For the Trophy Mille Denarii – ave, sports fans, and well met –
And they’re off ! Down the first straight, led by Number Three,
While Number Thirteen stalls, as he retracts into his helmet.
Hard into the corner at a tenth-a-mile an hour,
And slamming on the brakes – and out goes Number Ten !
Spinning in slow motion as she gives it too much power,
And slams into the backside of her team-mate, yet agen !
And the Formula Unum poll position passes on to Seventeen –
While her rival Number Twenty-Two is sliding for the pits,
To lubricate his tired foot, while they give his conch a sheen,
With a quick refuel of lettuce, and he’s back into the blitz !
Now shell-to-shell on the final lap come slithering the leaders,
Stretching their antennas out to take the chequered flag.
But competition never ends for Golden Helix breeders,
When looking for an offspring with a slightly better drag.”

Munch Munch

Photo by Pamela Marie on Pexels.com

Munch Munch

Caterpillars – nibble-eaters, strictly vegetarian,
They’re chowing-down on sugarbeats and duckweed and valerian,
And wriggling over cabbages and newly-vented greens,
Just look at all the gaping holes between the runner beans !
Row on decimated row beneath their painted swarms –
Lord knows how they cling on through the heat and thunderstorms !
Where are all the hungry songbirds ?  Browse my salad bar.
Where the parasitic wasps ?  Attend my buffet car !
Of course, there are the carnivores, though these are very few,
And they eat ants and aphids, not the skipper or the blue.
But still, a few round here would be a very welcome catch,
Though they are in the Tropics, nowhere near my veggie patch.
But there is hope – I hear that sometimes, when the Moon is full,
That certain individuals, on a whim, turn cannibal,
Gobbling up their brother bugs, to dominate the leaf,
And sucking all their insides out like so much bully beef.
But otherwise, my only cheer is hearing on the vine
How numbers of the butterflies are in a steep decline –
A shame the planet has to burn to stop their constant graze,
But you should see the harvest that I’ll reap those final days !

Incendentally, the carnivorous caterpillars mentioned are the Hawaiian pugs.

Monomorphic Adolescence

Concerto for Twelve Saxophones by Olgierd Rudak

Monomorphic Adolescence

Many moth and butterflies
Are wearing genders proud –
Males are coloured-up as males,
And ladies sport theirs loud.
But back when they were caterpillars,
They dressed all the same,
Until their pupas split to show the world,
As out they came.
It’s not like they have any choice,
Deciding which they’d rather –
They’re future’s set before they’re laid,
The sons become the fathers.
It must be hard to be a parent
Waiting long to be amazed,
As your kids emerge from their cocoons
And you see what sort you raised.
Except…a very few can play both sides,
Maintain the riddle –
With two wings boys and two wings girls,
And split straight down the middle.
Alas they cannot breed, these ones,
They’re an incidental plus –
When it comes to sexual selection,
It’s the others who choose for us.

Of course, by the time most caterpillar pupate, their parents are long gone. A few butterflies such as the tortoiseshell can hibernate over the Winter, though of course these are the ones which emerged late in the previous year and they don’t mate until the following Spring.

Exoskeletons

Exoskeletons

Insides on the outside.
I was always told
That they’re rigid suits of armour
That cannot stretch or fold –
Usually, the process is
To shed, and swell, and harden –
And that’s their lot, till next they moult –
No piling all the lard on !
But the sloughing of the shell enables
Fixing dings and missing limbs –
And that’s why adult lobsters
Keep on shrugging off their skins.
They don’t increase that much in size,
But do perform repairs –
Though there is danger here as well,
When things go wrong downstairs –
Not to mention getting trapped half-way,
Their robes un-doffed,
Or creeping-in mutations,
Or if gobbled-up when shedder-soft.
So long-lived lobsters in the end
Just wear the same old clothes,
And adult insects die before
The wear-and-tearing shows –

And mostly this is true –
But creatures are a funny lot,
And odd ones swarm into the mind
Like ants around a honeypot.
To pluck out one example,
Just ask a termite queen
Why her bum looks big it that
While her subjects are so lean ?
And she’ll reply,
“My abdomen was once a slender thing,
But see how it slowly stretches year-by-year,
And king-by-king.
And though I’m decades-old
And my body marked with time,
I’m very well-attended
To keep me in my prime –
I since I lie about all day,
What need I beauty for ?
Or even care for working legs
Which barely reach the floor ?
The changing fashions of the young are not for me,
My togs are fine –
I take-in food and pop-out eggs
In this old skin of mine.”

Cornucopia

Desert Bighorn Sheep by Bill Gracey and Two Ramshorn Snails by Destroysoil

Cornucopia

Ramshorn snails with ammonite shells,
A spiral without a hint of helix,
More like a wheel than a pyramid, I feel,
Just adding variety into the mix.
Some look drunken with sideways shells,
Half flat on their backs and half-falling off
Like a coil of rope – but they seem to cope,
And it’s still a home, and we shouldn’t scoff.

And honestly, they’re shaped much more like a ramshorn
Than any ram’s horn, which is more like a corkscrew –
Though any shepherd could tell you with scorn
That some horns’ spirals leave gaps you could walk through.
Unlike the snails, those geometric purists –
And yet they’re just tourists in the twist of fate –
They barely take a turn and let the helter-skelter churn,
Yet rams’ horns grow ev’ry which way but straight.

But I know what you’re thinking: what about the hermit crabs ?
What of it will spring-loaded scavengers make ?
Will they recycle these torus-shaped slabs,
Or are they afraid that their body-skew will break ?
Is such shelly symmetry unnecessary gimmickry ?
Or circular efficiency for streamlining’s sake ?
Much better suited than the filigreed or fluted,
Or the messy-convoluted coilings of a snake.

Ramshorn snails with ammonite shells,
So ambidextrous in their twisting –
Easy gliders or top-heavy sliders ?
Some are upright, and others are listing.
If snails have ramshorns then rams have crownhorns,
The biggest ones worn by the king of the dales –
And even when shorn, it becomes a shepherd’s cornet
To warn us of the wolves or the thieves or the snails.

Epeira

Photo by Andrii Lobur on Pexels.com

Epeira

The European Garden Spider
Bore a name both accurate and dull.
Till some do-gooding Victorian
Decided to give the matter a good old mull –
And, believing truth must always bow
To poetic hyperbole,
He grandly named them all orb-weavers
And wrote to the Times after tea.
Who cares if the webs are as flat as a silk cravat ?,
(Of course, monogrammed).
Should he have named them all plate-spinners ?
Geometry be d-mned !

Slow Poke

Slow Poke

Never drop your tardigrade in alcohol or acid, when
It isn’t curled-up tightly like a bun.
Never dehydrate it, or stop its oxygen,
Until all of its shrivelling is done.
Never heat your tardigrade a hundred-plus degrees,
Or blast it with a gamma ray, or leave it out to freeze,
Or send it into space, or in a pressure fit to squeeze –
Unless it is a hibernating tun.
If it’s slowly, slowly moving,
Best to leave it be –
For now is not the time for proving
Indestructibility.
For a tardy’s only hardy
When its legs no longer run…
But if it’s small and in a ball ?
Then sure, go have some fun.

Spiders, Incidentally

Spiders, Incidentally

Always getting in our way,
By stringing threads across our paths,
Or playing statues on our carpets,
Getting trapped inside our baths,
Or hanging down from lightshades
Or on wing-mirrors, left unchecked,
Or guarding rarely-opened doors
We never asked them to protect –
Always forcing us to shoo them,
Leaving webs that we must snap –
No wonder we believe the lie
That some get swallowed while we nap !

Always stinging beads of dew,
And cupboard-lurking in surprise,
Always scuttling just in view
Of the very corners of our eyes –
Yet when the flies are buzzing, buzzing,
Where are they to shoot them down ?
And all that silk as strong as steel,
Yet can’t be farmed to spin a gown.
Always raising jumps and squeals
And relocated in alarm –
No wonder we believe the lie
That spiders only bring us harm.

Moult Litter

ex-exos
Spider & Moulted Exoskeletons photographed by Thierry Berrod

Moult Litter

In all of the places that dusters don’t get to,
On covings and pelmets, in cupboards and sheds –
With many a squeam and a shudder, I bet you,
We know what we’ll find on the dust-heavy threads –
The graveyards of spiders, with hook-leggèd carcasses,
Either their owners are dead, or they’re gone
And abandoned their earlier mobile fortresses,
Ditched by the web-side while they scamper on.

Tumbleweeds that tremble in our gasps,
As though they’re still alive –
With finger-legs that only clasp
The empty air that makes them jive,
But couldn’t cling to life, or cling to guts.
Or maybe shells of burry nuts,
Which lie in wait to hitch a ride,
With tiny eggs they plant inside
To spread their brood to distant nooks and huts.
They’re single-used, these chitin gowns –
Abandoned and outgrown,
Have they no life as hand-me downs,
Or overcoats of bone ?

I wonder, could a hermit-fly purloin one,
Use it as a neat disguise ?
It has, of course, too many legs, too many eyes.
But carpenter bees could join in,
To adapt the suit, adjust the fit,
And silkworms help to sew up any split.
Maybe for a little coin
An enterprising beetle may
Collect the lot, and set them on display.
Just the thing to look soigné
The best-dressed bugs and social sets
Are spider-clad, from palps to spinnerets.

Why does nothing eat these ?
No nutrients, presumably.
They cannot flee, they cannot rust,
They simply scatter through the endless desert drifts of dust.
And so the dunes accrete these,
Until they’re swallowed down,
To sink and drown, or fossilise –
The only clue that they were empty are the missing eyes.