Martin Harvey's picture

Heath Snail - Helicella itala

Observed: 25th September 2010 By: Martin Harvey
Berkshire Moth GroupFSC - Field Studies CouncilSoldierflies and Allies Recording SchemeBuckinghamshire Invertebrate Group
Invertebrates expert
Helicella itala - Aston Rowant
Helicella itala - Aston Rowant-1
Helicella itala - Aston Rowant-2
Helicella itala - Aston Rowant-3
Helicella itala - Aston Rowant-4
Description:

I quite often find empty shells of this uncommon snail in the Chilterns, but this year I've seen live snails as well - not sure if they are having a good year or I just wasn't looking hard enough before. Also not sure why it has the English name of "Heath" snail, as it is a chalk grassland species.
(For identification purposes it is always useful to show snail shells from top, botton and side, as well as giving an indication of size.)

Identifications
Species interactions

No interactions present.

Comments

Tiggrx's picture

I think the word heath

I think the word heath formerly had a more wide meaning. One definition I found says "tract of dry, uncultivated land". I have seen the habitat "heaths" given for many chalk downland flowers in old floras.

Martin Harvey's picture

heath

Thanks for that Tiggrx, I was aware of "chalk heath" habitat, where acidic soils overlay chalk rock, but didn't realise that heath had been used to refer to chalk downland more broadly.

This prompted me to wonder when the name Heath Snail was first used, and a search on Google Scholar turned up a reference from 1802, in Donovan's "The Natural History of British Shells". In that book the Heath Snail is described as living "on heaths and sandy soils", and as being found on "sandy heaths". Also, it is under an older synonym "Helix ericetorum" (this name perhaps deriving from ericaceous plants such as Heather?).

Nowadays the Heath Snail is found on sand-dunes but I'm not aware of it being on more acidic heaths - perhaps it has changed its habitat over the last 200 years? In England at least it is no longer "very common" as Donovan describes it, and another web source says that there are only two sites for it left in Oxfordshire, where this observation was located.

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Entomologist and biological recorder