Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fun with snails

Behold the common gastropod: you may embrace him as a fellow resident of the planet, mock his glacial pace, express fear or disgust at the many ways in which his life does not resemble your own. Or do all of the above and more ...

First, though, someone might want to break it to the folks who put this clip together that his stars probably aren't "fighting":

Next, courtesy of BoingBoing, a different perspective on this lowly, slowly moving creature:

Snails Go west ! Funny TimeLapse from on Vimeo.

Found that one here, and in the course of trying to track it down again, I came across this "Interesting Thing of the Day" about "non-human farmers" of all sorts:

It was only recently that marsh snails (Littoraria irrorata) were added to the list of animal farmers; they are also the first in the marine world known to be fungiculturists. Marsh snails live in salt marshes and their main food is a fungus that grows on cordgrass leaves. Similar to the damselfish, they cut the cordgrass leaves to create wounds, and lay their excrement into the wounds. The excrement contains the fungal spores (like seeds) and also the nutrients for the fungus to flourish in. Although in snail colonies as many as 1,000 snails per square meter can be found, snails are non-social. Therefore, complex societal structures are not a requirement for farming.

Speaking of excrement, here--by way of an interesting blogpost I found through, you guessed it, BB--is a bit of "zombie snail" action demonstrating that nature is not always a land of rainbows and ponies (though it is a land of all sorts of symbiotic interrelationships between species). I suppose I should warn some of you that this is not for the squeamish, even though it's not that creepy.

Not scared yet? Let's not forget the Giant African Land Snails, who do sound like bad news. But on to happier matters--because that which does not kill us can be taught to deliver our mail.

That's right, I'm talking about RealSnailMail (which BB covered here). According to the BBC, it works like this:
Each snail is fitted with a tiny capsule which holds a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip. RFID allows objects to communicate over short distances. Users of the service send a message via the Real Snail Mail website which is routed to the tank at the speed of light to await collection by a snail "agent". As the three snails slowly amble around the tank, they occasionally come into range of an electronic reader, which attaches the e-mail message to the RFID chip. The electronic messages are then physically carried around the tank by the snails until one of the gastropods passes close to a second reader.
It is then forwarded over the net in the usual way. "It could be quite frustrating for some people," Vicky Isley, one of the artists told BBC News. "It's completely subverting that normal system." So far, the three snails have managed to deliver 14 messages.

The accompanying blog looks pretty cool, and it tipped me off to a "Slow Art" Exhibition during last year's SIGGRAPH. (Damn, I was just too slow in finding out about it to attend!) And here is where my sudden (er, gradual?) interest in the shelled critters moves from cheap jokes and clever puns to a pointed social critique I can really get behind:

In our digital culture, we can task simultaneously, message instantly, and prototype rapidly, but, in doing so, do we create an oasis for contemplation, or do we fuel a hunger for yet more speed? As technology colors all aspects of our world, we see the inevitable pendular response in campaigns that advocate slowness.

The Italian membership organization Cittaslow's manifesto defines criteria for slow cities, focusing on improved quality of life. Internationally, people are organizing to protect regional food systems, traditions, and cuisine as part of the Slow Food Movement. There is a return to artisanship, and a renewed focus on the local, as opposed to the global.

On the other hand, an earlier BB post established that snails can make for speedier data transfer than other life forms. Finally, if it's speed you want--or the chance to exploit a few defenseless critters yourself--behold these directions for running your very own snail race.

Thank you for your time, ladies and germs. And now I am late for work, as it has taken me far longer to post this than I had hoped.

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