Commercial Species

Among all the species worldwide (there are almost 2,500 species and varieties) Heliciculture is only concerned with those used in commercial markets and traditional cuisines around the world. We will now describe the most popular species of HELIX snails on an international level. The ACHATINA species will not be considered as its taste and dimension (more than 300g per snail) are incompatible with western cuisine. The number of species is very low (three or four) if only snail farms adopting the full organic cycle method are taken into account. This small amount is also linked to the selection process that has taken place in the past 20 years, which eliminated snails with negative features such as bitter meat, short survival time after picking, slow growth rate or being small in size.

The following species are in order according to distribution and importance:

HELIX ASPERSA

Helix Apersa is the most widespread species in the Mediterranean area as these snails prefer a warm climate and being close to the sea. In Italy they are also known as "Zigrinata" or "Maruzza," in France as "Petit-gris" or "Chagriné," and in Spain as "Caracolas." Helix Apersa feature a cone-shaped shell that is convex at the top and larger at the bottom, and has 3-4 whorls. This species accounts for more than 95% of Italian snail farming. Its main strength is its early growth: snails are fully-grown within 12 months. Also, they boast a high reproduction rate (a total of almost 120 eggs per year in two broods). At 8 months, Helix Aspersa snails are able to reproduce.

The most popular breeds are:

• Helix Aspersa Müller

• Helix Aspersa Maxima

• Helix Aspersa Aspersa

(crossbreed in snail farms between Helix Aspersa Müller and Helix Aspersa Maxima)

 

HELIX POMATIA

Also know in Italy as "Vignaiola Bianca" and in France as "Gros-blanc" or "Escargot de Bourgogne" (as they are typical of Bourgogne). This species is found only in areas far from the seaside. Due to its ability to adapt to different environments, numerous varieties have developed in Southern Italy and in some area of the Apennines. Helix Pomatia was once very popular among snail farms. Today its popularity has decreased despite its tasty meat due to its long growth time.

 

EOBANIA VERMICULATA

Eobania Vermiculata snails are also known as "Rigatella." These snails are small and particularly widespread throughout Tuscany and Lazio. The number of Rigatella snail farms is limited because this species is hard to breed.

 

OTALA LACTEA

Atala Lactea (which means "milk snails"), also known as "Spanish Snails", are pulmonate gastropod mollusks from the Helicidae family. This species comes from Europe and Northern Africa and was later introduced into some US countries such as Arizona, California, and Florida, and in South-East Australia. Atala Lactea snails build and use love darts during courtship before actual mating takes place.

 

CERNUELLA VIRGATA

The shell measures 8-15mm and its diameter is 12-23mm wide. The background colour of the shell is creamy-white with a variable number of light and dark brown stripes. The peristoma is often light or dark brown. The umbilicus is open enabling easy identification of them from similar species such as Cepaea Nemoralis or Theba Pisana. Cernuella Virgata snails are very common in North-western Europe, in the Mediterranean basin, in the Iberian Peninsula, and in Crimea. They prefer a dry environment like sand dunes and scrublands marked by calcareous substrates. They are also common in man-made areas. During drought periods they gather on vegetation and undergo aestivation. Cernuella Virgata snails are mostly herbivorous and feed both on fresh and decomposed vegetation. Occasionally they also eat small insects (Coccinellidae) and are hermaphroditic. Like the other Helicoidea super-family species they feature a dart sac which produces a love dart used to pierce the mate during mating.

 

ACHATINA FULICA

This giant snail comes from Eastern Africa and is probably the most widespread African snail worldwide. The shell is brownish in colour and has a variable number of light and dark stripes. The shell shape is elongated and usually wound anticlockwise (more rarely, clockwise). The large size of this species enables recognition of the radula inside the mouth - used by snails to feed by scraping food. The radula is a sort of tongue, featuring a series of small calcareous teeth, which are regularly regenerated. If the shell breaks and internal organs are not damaged Achatina snails are able to repair themselves: the salivary glands produce a sticky and elastic substance which will replace the former shell. Like many other species, Achatina snails are hermaphroditic. Achatina snails have high reproductive rate. Each subject can produce 80-200 eggs with a high-mean fertility rate (60-70%). For reproduction to be facilitated, soil should be deep and always rich in calcium, which is extremely important for eggs. During the Second World War a certain number of Achatina Fulica were introduced into the Southern Pacific Islands for consumption purposes but the escape of some subjects and their ability to adapt to local environments led to their uncontrolled proliferation. In an attempt to contain Achatina snails, a carnivorous species, Euglandina Rosea (also known as "Wolf Snail") was introduced into the same islands, ending up in catastrophic consequences. Wolf Snails in fact then fed on local species of the genus Partula causing their extinction.

THEBA PISANA

(White Garden Snail, Sand Hill Snail, White Italian Snail, Mediterranean Coastal Snail, Mediterranean Snail)

One of the species marketed but not bred in Italy is the "Theba Pisana," called "Bovoletto" (Veneto), "Cozzella di Campagna" (Campania and Puglia), "Cioga Minudda" (Sardinia), and "Babbaluccio" (Sicily).

It is a very small snail, each one weighing about 3 grams each (so 300 pieces per kilogram). It is a very tender meat which is cooked quickly in a pan for a few minutes and flavored with chilli, parsley or other aromatic herbs. It is sucked along with the sauce as the mollusc extraction is quite difficult. It is not bred due to it's small size. This species can be gathered in nature without limitation: there are no laws or prohibitions regarding this. It is found and collected above all in southern and island areas. The shell is robust, globular, slightly crushed in the young ones, with a diameter of 15-20 mm, a height of 10-15 mm, and has 5-6 slightly convex swirls. The color of the shell is whitish and has porcelain specs, and some have brown stripes of varying thickness. When these brown stripes are present they can be in the form of unbroken or dotted spirals, or small radial spots. The foot is light in color.

It differs from other similar species such as Cernuella Virgata and Eobania Vermiculata for it's very small and almost completely covered navel and for the oblique, pink, rounded, sometimes slightly sharp, complete covering in adult specimens.

This species is spread throughout the Mediterranean basin. It has been introduced in several other areas including northern Europe, North America, parts of Africa, Asia, and Australia - where it has often become an invasive species causing serious problems for agriculture. It is a typical species of dune environments, but moves towards the centre -  especially in the vicinity of rivers. It is not uncommon find it in anthropic environments.

HELIX APERTA

Helix Aperta are know as "Monacella" in Puglia and "Monzetta" in Sardinia. They are smal in size: 22-26 mm long, making it one of the smaller Helix species. Its shell is brownish-green coloured with three or four whorls, the first of which is very curly and the last of which is much wider. The aperture is crescent-shaped and does not feature any columellar hole. The colour of the meat is yellowish and slightly dark. During warm periods, the snails have a white, bulging operculum. In Italy they are common in some areas of Liguria and in almost the whole of Southern Italy, Sicily, and Sardinia. As far as the Mediterranean area is concerned, Helix Aperta snails can be found in Tunisia, Marocco, Algeria and at the seaside areas of the former territories of Yugoslavia and Southern France - where they are known as “Torpado."

The meat is tender and is sold only in warm periods when snails bury themselves. These snails are traditionally cooked at home and during local festivals despite being expensive.

The full organic cycle method has not reached satisfying and efficient results with this species yet even though several attempts have been made in different regions. The main problem is the aestivation, which occurs exclusively underground (up to 30cm deep) and only in natural environments. Picking is therefore difficult and jeopardises the snail's survival. These snails must therefore be regenerated again - bringing ensuing costs and longer breeding times compared to other species. The commercial relevance of Helix Aperta snails in Italy should not be underestimated: 5,000 tons, 90% of which is imported from Tunisia - owing to lower labour costs and picking being carried out in the wild.

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