Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Snails on the prairie

with 41 comments

Snails that have climbed up on plants are a common sight on the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin, as I confirmed again on May 4. Future posts will elucidate the great prairie wildflowers that you get hints of here.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 7, 2020 at 4:42 AM

41 Responses

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  1. This is common there? I think I’ve seen snails out on unexpected purchases only a very few times. I might expect to see something like this in a tropical jungle, but this is a real surprise. Looking forward to more info!


    May 7, 2020 at 4:50 AM

    • Yes, it’s common here. I spent several hours at an adjacent site yesterday and must have seen hundreds of snails on plants. Some of the plants were living, others merely dead stalks like the one in today’s photograph. In most cases a snail was by itself; in other cases snails were in pairs, trios, quartets. Over the two decades that I’ve been wandering the prairie in that area, I don’t remember ever before finding as many snails on plants as I have this week.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 7, 2020 at 4:59 AM

    • As for why snails climb plants, an Austin city website says snails “feed on plants by scraping off the tissue or eating holes in the leaves or flowers.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 7, 2020 at 5:12 AM

      • Yes, a snail has little rasps on its tongue, which is properly called a radula, much like on a cat’s tongue. If you look closely at a snail on the inside of the glass of an aquarium wall, you can sometimes see it in action.


        May 7, 2020 at 5:05 PM

  2. There’s a rail-trail not far from my house, and along one stretch, the scrubby trees have snails on the branches, up at eye level. I’ve never understood why this seems to happen, year after year, in that particular area. Maybe a sort of mountaineering club.

    Robert Parker

    May 7, 2020 at 6:52 AM

    • So you’ve got a snail-rail-trail up there. Given the variations in snail colors, I expect it was partly a pale-snail-rail-trail. You should send your friends a pale-snail-rail-trail e-mail about it. That aside, it’s good of you to confirm that your snails up north are as adventuresome as ours down here on the prairie. Given how small these snails are, a tree might well be the equivalent of a mountain.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 7, 2020 at 7:00 AM

  3. I wonder what the snails are after when they are climbing up those plants. It cannot be food. Perhaps to get a better view. Would be able to tell us, Steve?

    Peter Klopp

    May 7, 2020 at 8:35 AM

    • Austin city website says snails “feed on plants by scraping off the tissue or eating holes in the leaves or flowers.” A snail at the bottom of a stalk probably can’t tell what’s at the top. If so, then some climbs will be in vain.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 7, 2020 at 11:14 AM

  4. I love that grouping of snails! Good catch, Steve!

    Lavinia Ross

    May 7, 2020 at 9:17 AM

  5. We spent the months of November through most of February in the Hill Country west of Austin (Hudson Bend) at an RV Resort. I was amazed to see these snails underneath the cover on the power post. The post is home to the electric receptacles for the RVs. It also was home to these snails, which I thought was rather odd. Nothing to eat on the power post…


    May 7, 2020 at 9:33 AM

    • So you have first-hand experience with our central Texas snails. An earlier commenter was surprised that we have lots of them here, unlike the places where he’s lived, Nebraska and Minnesota.

      I wonder if snails under something like the cover of a power post are looking to keep hidden from predators. Or perhaps it’s a way to keep cooler in the Texas heat.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 7, 2020 at 11:25 AM

  6. Oh, a snail tree! 😀 The field behind them looks amazing too.


    May 7, 2020 at 4:16 PM

    • And a pale snail tree, at that. The fields in that are covered with colonies of wildflowers. After I saw how good things were on Monday I returned on Wednesday and again today. Pictures will begin coming as soon as tomorrow.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 7, 2020 at 4:52 PM

  7. Huh! The little blighters have taken to hiding in my tulip flowers! Well they did until recently. They also climb up iris leaves. I know all too well the damage done from those rasping tongues!


    May 7, 2020 at 6:43 PM

  8. I like seeing snails this way. They have such bad reputation but hold a fascination for me. I suppose it must be the variety, and the spirals.


    May 7, 2020 at 7:56 PM

    • In terms of pictures, snails make good subjects. I saw and photographed so many kinds of snails on the prairie during my three visits there this week. It was easy, because so many were there, and on so many kinds of plants.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 7, 2020 at 8:49 PM

  9. Until recently, the only snails I’d personally seen tended to be very small, white, dead ones left after controlled burns, or the very small ones I occasionally find on the sides of big fiberglass boats: so far from land I have to wonder how long it would have taken them to crawl down the dock.

    But! On my last visits to the Galveston cemeteries, I found dozens of snails that look much like these clustered on the gravestones. That gave me pause. If there had been flooding rains, I could imagine them climbing high, but on granite? Sweet mystery of life, indeed. Between two visits, they’d moved from four or five stones and traveled about fifty feet to another set of stones. Only one snail remained on the first group of stones; I nicknamed it Greta Garbo.


    May 8, 2020 at 7:45 AM

    • “Ah, sweet mystery of life” goes back 110 years now:


      Younger readers probably have no idea what you’re referring to in making a link between Greta Garbo and a snail that has been left alone. I see that Garbo was born 125 years ago. Where did the 20th century go?

      Since you’ve traveled around so much in nature for a bunch of years now, I’m wondering why you came across snails like these only recently, given that you have plenty of coastal prairie.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 8, 2020 at 12:17 PM

  10. I love this, Steve. I saw the phenomenon once, in a field outside of Seattle. So cool! Wonderful photo!


    May 8, 2020 at 4:03 PM

    • Thanks. You’d have been thrilled to walk around on this prairie parcel, where hundreds of snails were on display. Today we walked a part of the path I hadn’t trodden on my three earlier visits this week, and snails still abounded.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 8, 2020 at 7:33 PM

  11. I get to see more slugs than snails but do come across the occasional. Nice to see all that meadow escargot.

    Steve Gingold

    May 9, 2020 at 3:32 AM

  12. […] pictures of one snail on a fresh basket-flower, another on an opening firewheel, and a foursome on a dry plant have pleased some of you, so here are three more photographs from the limaciferous* Blackland […]

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