The garden snail (Helix aspersa, lit. ‘three-dimensional corkscrew-shaped appetizer’) is a terrestrial mollusk that never really figured out how to get positive results from Evolution. In defense of the snail, that’s not an easy task, because Evolution is a manic-depressive genius and famously difficult to work with on anything. Plus the garden snail kept catching Evolution in its ‘experimental’ periods.
When confronted by the same complicated problems, epoch after epoch, Evolution produces a host of different solutions (there are ten unique plans for the eye, each designed when Evolution went off its meds). These tend to range from the breathtaking to the absurd (again, depending on Evolution’s mood at the time). Unfortunately for H. aspersa, Evolution was on what it was certain was a creative (though also quite likely chemically-influenced) high when it decided to make the garden snail’s Big Three – Sensory Organs, Locomotion, and Reproduction – and the result of its three-day all-nighter was somehow all at once both far too much – and yet not nearly enough.
Apparently Evolution just broke up with its girlfriend.
Here’s a tip: when Evolution suddenly gets up, locks itself in the bathroom and turns on the shower so you can’t hear it sobbing in Latin – that’s not the time to get in the Eye Line, at least not if you’re hoping for complex, autofocusing, mammalian eyes with a large dynamic contrast ratio and a nice, roomy, dedicated visual cortex for data processing. However, if you are in the Eye Line at that point, there are at least even odds that you end up with light-sensitive™ eyestalks openly purchased from Wal-Mart as ‘found art’ that Evolution keeps declaring its latest ‘masterpiece.’
‘Say…you didn’t keep the receipt by any chance?’
Complementing its flimsy, cheap, light-sensing ‘eyes’ (assembly required, batteries not included, online .pdf manual impossible to find and poorly translated1), Evolution then decided to dedicate H. aspersa’s remaining two face-based tentacles to touch and smell, though precisely why is anyone’s guess (just nobody ask). As pleased as Evolution was with this creative choice, the design ended up a case study on the dangers of placing too much faith in one’s genius, as the typical snail just ends up confused as to which of the four tentacles to use in which situation, and it’s not infrequent that these animals stick an eye into a carton of milk to smell if it’s gone bad. To paraphrase the words of Evolution’s former business manager, it’s just too much for no reason at all.
Locomotion in the snail begat another moment of creative turpitude for Evolution. Bored with what it kept lambasting as ‘pedestrian’ modes of transit, such as walking, flying or zipping around via jet propulsion (already ‘played out’ in the snail’s sophisticated mollusc cousin, the squid), Evolution gave snails what seems to be some kind of deeply ironic commentary about some social issue that none of us will ever really understand.2 Anyway, whatever Evolution’s bigger point in its work, snails are left to get around town by sliding their single ‘foot’ over a trail of their own mucous, meaning that the garden snail tops out around 23 iph (inches per hour) at full throttle with snot boosters set to max. Suffice it to say, this marked the low-point for Evolution’s career, as even the Arts section of the New York Times offered only measured praise, prompting Evolution to cancel its subscription for two weeks and causing a minor sensation around Manhattan that ended when the newspaper’s ombudsman wrote an apology.
‘Anyone wanna swap for a pair of legs? Don’t bother answering – I’m also deaf.’
A complete creative nadir was reached with Evolution’s indefensible choices for the garden snail for sexual reproduction. First of all, it made all of them hermaphrodites, but that wasn’t ‘new’ enough, apparently. When two garden snails contemplate reproduction one of them initiates the act by injecting the other with a mystery mucous (of course) using what scientists call a ‘love dart.’ After the unveiling of the ‘love dart’ to a capacity crowd at its gallery, Evolution noticed that most of them were either confusedly staring at said love dart and/or quietly picking at their hors d’œuvres. After a long, uncomfortable pause and some polite clapping, someone had the temerity to ask if the love dart was a metaphor for a collectivized Oedipus Complex. Well, everyone got the answer to that question when Evolution threw its champagne in the questioner’s face and stomped out of the room.
It was a long time before answers could be had, as soon thereafter Evolution stopped giving interviews. But in March of 2006, some researchers at Canada’s famed McGill University in Montreal did an experiment in which they cut off some snails’ love darts3 and proceeded to inject one group with saltwater and the other with the mystery mucous. They found that the mystery mucous delivered by love darts actually doubles a snail’s potential to produce offspring. In short, Evolution wasn’t completely off – just mostly. And in point of fact, it also turns out that snail researchers also double their chances of not mating simply by performing snail research.
‘Darts, huh? You know, this reminds me of my research in snail reproduction. I’ve found that control groups injected with saline sol…Desiree, wait…where are you going?’
Snails are, in short, a mess. They’re tragically underwhelming in their complexity, and they make clear that even the best natural selectors make bad choices. And since nobody else seems willing to say it: Sorry, Evolution – you screwed up on this one.
1 The English version of the garden snail’s online light-sensing eyestalk manual instructs it to ‘Insert Cornea tab A1 into Retina slot B3 and take 16mm screw please include to fassen (sic) to Optic Nerve.’ And then for no clear reason it switches to German. What a mess.
2 The DNA blueprints for even the finest snot propulsions systems are so ridiculous that most ribosomes simply refuse to translate them into proteins.
3 It’s cool – they grow back.