Field of Science

Bradybaenids: The Little Freaks

Just a quick one this week, as I'm busy preparing for the International Conference of Arachnology in Taipei next week. The wonderful assembly in the photograph above (by B. Frank) is a congregation of the Asian tramp snail Bradybaena similaris. The Bradybaenidae are a family of small snails, closely related to the garden snails of the Helicidae, that are mostly native to eastern Asia. However, a few species such as B. similaris have become widespread around the world as a result of human transportation. Not deliberate transportation of the snails themselves, of course, but transportation of plants and plant matter that have had the snails clinging to them. Also, recent phylogenetic studies have indicated that the Australasian snails hitherto included in the Camaenidae are in fact not close relatives of the North American representatives of that family, but should be placed close to or even within the Bradybaenidae (Wade et al. 2007).

Euhadra grata gratoides, from here.

You may already be familiar with the production by some species of snail of 'love darts', small calcareous spears that a mating snail fires into its partner. The function of the love dart is still not entirely understood, though it does seem to improve sperm uptake by the snail being darted: whether by lowering its ability to resist insemination, or because snails are mini-masochists that get off on being stabbed, I couldn't say. Most textbooks describing the use of love darts will (at least effectively) base their description on the common garden snail Cornu aspersum (or Cantareus aspersus, or whatever the heck we're supposed to be calling it these days), which leaves its love dart embedded in its partner's skin. Bradybaenids whose mating behaviour has been studied, however, do things a bit differently. Instead of abandoning its dart after a single firing, bradybaenids withdraw the dart and use it to stab their partner repeatedly, making it more of a love shiv than a love dart. And when I say repeatedly, I mean repeatedly: mating pairs of Euhadra subnimbosa would, on average, stab each other with the dart over 3300 times (Koene & Chiba 2006). So vigorous is the stabbing, in fact, that the dart pierces straight through the recipient and emerges through its foot! For those with JSTOR access, a video of the process can be seen at And trust you to go rushing to watch a film of gastropod SM.


Koene, J. M., & S. Chiba. 2006. The way of the samurai snail. American Naturalist 168 (4): 553-555.

Wade, C. M., C. Hudelot, A. Davision, F. Naggs & P. B. Mordan. 2007. Molecular phylogeny of the helicoid land snails (Pulmonata: Stylommatophora: Helicoidea), with special emphasis on the Camaenidae. Journal of Molluscan Studies 73: 411-415.


  1. Well, I'm a sucker for snail sex. Great post.

  2. 3300 times?! And the snails are not incapacitated in any way from this?

    My Jstor shelf is full at the moment, otherwise I would be curious to see this.


Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS