The round-mouthed snail is a very unusual creature which has made a home in Woolacombe dunes and perhaps only a few other places here in the South West.
I am looking to put together an up-to-date picture of where this small snail lives on the north coasts of Devon, Somerset and Cornwall. I am hoping to find anyone who has seen it (or who is willing to keep an eye out for it) – walkers, biologists, beachcombers and anyone else who might find themselves on sandy dunes.
I had never heard of the round-mouthed snail (or pomatias elegans to give him his proper title) until April of this year when I found this peculiar snail on Woolacombe dunes, here in North Devon.
The round-mouthed snail, generally less than a centimetre long, likes to bury himself in the sand, feed on dead wood and sports a range of shell colours including pink, bluish and beige. He has a long ‘snout’ and his eyes are at the base of his antennae, making him look more like a tiny tapir rather than a snail. He loves to bury himself in the soft sand of dunes and so it seems it is only in these very sandy places that he is found.
He is actually more closely related to marine periwinkles than to other land snails. And, although I am calling him a him, round-mouthed snails are all either female or male unlike many terrestrial snails in which the sexes are not so distinct.
It does seem that this a very special snail.
It turns out that, despite him being little known, the round-mouthed snail could actually be a big deal here in Woolacombe. There is a shell in a mahogany case on display in our local museum. I wonder what he did to deserve such an honour.
The official records too tell an interesting tale. Long before iRecord was even a twinkle in someone’s eye, people were collecting national data on wildlife. The first recorded sighting in Woolacombe of pomatias elegans was in 1908, when the dunes were being used as a golf course. The next record was in 1971, then in 1990 and finally my sighting in April of this year – 108 years after that first record.
And then there is the matter of numbers. In April, I saw about half a dozen live snails. In June, I spent half an hour of my lunch break on one sandy path leading from the dunes to the beach. On that one stretch, I counted 482 live snails. The round-mouthed snails may be rare regionally, but it seems very common locally!
The South West
Generally, however, there are very few recorded sightings in the South West. Kerney, the snail distribution expert, postulated that the round-mouthed snail, having once been widespread in this country, has become restricted to the south since our glaciers melted away. Gradual climate change, Kerney found, has impacted on its distribution leaving very few reports of it elsewhere. According to his research, while the snail is still found on the south coast, there are only three or four isolated patches in which this snail now lives on the north coast of Devon and Cornwall, Woolacombe dunes being one of them. At the time of writing, iRecord has only one record in Devon and Cornwall – the one I submitted in April.
What I would really like to try to discover is whether we still only have these isolated patches in which the round-mouthed snail lives or whether he has spread around our coast as the rumours suggest. I have heard anecdotal reports that the round-mouthed snail has also been seen in places with good dunes like Instow and Braunton. And maybe into north Cornwall.
Can you help?
There can be a big difference between reported and recorded sightings and what people actually see on a day-to-day basis. What I am hoping now is that people will let me know if they have seen the round-mouthed snail in their locality on the north coast of the South West (or, indeed, in my locality here in Woolacombe) and we can put together a picture of where this snail is and perhaps learn more about how well, or not, it is doing.
Perhaps you have already seen this snail in your area or maybe, when you are next out, you could have a look for him on sandy paths and dunes. He is sometimes also found on beaches.
Please let me know of any sightings either in the comments below or email me. Or just pop it onto iRecord (http://www.brc.ac.uk/irecord/).
Beach Ranger, National Trust, Woolacombe