animal kingdom

Watch: ‘Love darts’ and the somewhat strange sex life of the snail

Definitely one of nature’s most unusual mating practices.

Play

The sex life of a snail is anything but ordinary.

It’s more of a battle which involves sharp, sword-like weapons called “love darts”, which are stabbed into one others’ bodies while mating.

This strange behaviour in gastropods is actually a battle over fatherhood. Most snails are hermaphrodites, producing sperms like males and carrying eggs like females at the same time.

Still, given a choice, a snail prefers fatherhood, an easier role in the process of reproduction. And so the battle with their mating partner, to establish that role

The dangerous yet essential process takes place after a series of movements and attitudes in what is called courtship or the mating dance, and before mating actually takes place.

Barry Roth, an independent snail and slug consultant in San Francisco, tells KQED Science that the courtship helps decide this key question. “Who’s going to be male? Who’s going to be female? Or is it going to be shared?”

“Love darts” are found in sexually mature animals only. Made of calcium, they are covered with mucus that contains a type of hormones capable of increasing the chances of success at having offspring.

This process can last between two and twelve hours for the creatures, who often rely on their sense of smell and touch to compensate for poor eyesight and lack of hearing.

The short movie above from the KQED Science documentary series Deep Look offers an ultra high definition preview into one of nature’s most unusual mating practices.

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