WTF Fun Fact 13171 – Patricia Highsmith’s Snails

Patricia Highsmith was the author of psychological thrillers centered on the duplicity and morality of their main characters. In modern times, her best-known novel is The Talented Mr. Ripley. And while there are many interesting facets of her life one may want to know about, today we’re looking at Patricia Highsmith’s snails and their enduring legacy as a “fun fact” about her.

What’s the story about Patricia Highsmith’s snails?

Highsmith was a complex person and journaled extensively about the highs and lows of her emotions as well as the questioning of gender and sexuality. She was also highly enamored with snails. Highsmith kept them as pets because of their ability to be self-sufficient as well as their lack of sexual dimorphism (any difference between males and females).

She refused to take on any stereotypical female gender role. For example, since women were tied to the home at the height of her career in the 1940s and 50s, she took up traveling.

Highsmith died in 1995, and in 2021 no less than three biographies came out about her life. All of them recount her love of snails and the story of her taking 100 of her pet snails to a cocktail party in Suffolk, England. They were stashed in her handbag, much to the delight of guests. Also shoved inside her bag was a large head of lettuce for them to chew on. It must have been a large bag!

As the New York Times Style magazine T recounts, her love of snails started in the 1940s:

“In 1946, while walking past a New York City fish market, Highsmith spotted two snails locked in a loving embrace. Intrigued, she took them home, placed them in a fishbowl and watched their wriggling copulation, spellbound. As was typical of Highsmith, she was riveted by what others found repulsive or nauseating. ‘They give me a sort of tranquility,’ she said of the gastropods. ‘It is quite impossible to tell which is the male and which is the female, because their behavior and appearance are exactly the same,’ she wrote elsewhere.”

Stowaway snails

Highsmith wanted to make it big in America, but never quite broke through during her lifetime, even though Alfred Hitchcock adapted her novel Strangers on a Train for the screen. She spent most of her career in Europe.

When moving from England to France, Highsmith insisted on bringing her pet snails along (at one point she had 300). But the law prohibited her from bringing them into the country. As a result, she stowed them away by tucking them under her breasts. As the story goes, she could get around 10 under each.

In 1947, she began including snails in her writing. In a short story titled “The Snail-Watcher,” “a snail enthusiast named Peter Knoppert finds his study has been overwhelmed by the creatures due to their copious breeding, and he is grimly smothered and consumed by them.”

Highsmith’s agent refused to show it to editors because the main character chokes on a snail in a graphic way that he deemed “too repellant.” But her friends got a kick out of it.

There’s no telling what influenced her love of snails or her desire to bring them wherever she went. But it does make a good cocktail party story.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Many Faces of Patricia Highsmith” — T – The New York Times Style Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 12807 – Snails Have Teeth

Have you ever wondered how a snail eats? We sure haven’t! But it turns out that snails have teeth laid out along their tongues – thousands of them, in fact.

Snail “teeth”

Snails have teeth, but they’re nothing like human teeth. First, the rows of minuscule teeth are laid out on their tongues. (We never really thought about whether snails had tongues either, to be honest).

According to Dr, Gordon Port, senior lecturer at Newcastle University: “A snail will use its toothy tongue ­– called the radula – almost like a file, scraping off the softer parts of their food when eating. Their teeth normally get worn down by this action, so they’re replaced regularly.”

A “toothy tongue”

BBC Science Focus (cited below) describes some of the variations on these “toothy tongues:”

“There are also some (downright terrifying) radula variations. Species such as cone snails – that are mainly found in warm and tropical waters – have a venomous radula that is used to paralyse prey before eating.

In case you’re wondering, slugs also have a radula, which similarly are fitted with thousands of tiny teeth. Some predatory slugs, such as the Welsh ghost slug, have radulae with razor-sharp teeth – each about half a millimetre long – that are used to kill and eat earthworms.

Many squids also have a radula inside their mouth. As its throat passes directly through the brain, a squid’s toothy tongue is needed to break down food into tiny pieces. Because, let’s face it, a piece of crab knocking against your brain is bound to ruin supper.”

What do snails eat?

Snails eat at night for the most part – which we’re grateful for, since they sound like pretty messy eaters.

And Port told BBC that they’ll eat just about any organic matter, like young plants. “And some species, such as Moon snails, are even known to eat each other. But, mostly, any decomposing matter will do.”

As long as snails aren’t chewing your foliage, they can be good for gardens since they eat decomposing matter and then serve as food for other animals.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Do snails have teeth?” — BBC Science Focus