Snails can be cute but slightly creepy pets, but they also make a tasty meal or appetizer in many cultures. It’s entirely normal for people to wonder if animals have feelings, especially those we tend to eat. It can be hard for some people to chow down on something that once had feelings or died scared. If you’ve ever looked at a menu and that garlicky escargot dish looks delicious, but your conscience is holding you back, this information might help.
Snails do not have any feelings, according to researchers. Snails and other crustaceans have very simple nervous systems. Having a simple nervous system essentially means that these creatures don’t have the ability to process even the simplest of emotions, including pain or suffering.
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What Does the Nervous System Do?
The nervous system is the part of the body that helps coordinate behavior and actions and then transmits signals between other parts of the body to the brain. For example, in humans, our nervous system sends signals to our brain that we’re in pain if we stub our toes or fall down. Without a properly functioning nervous system, we wouldn’t be able to tell if we’re in pain or experiencing hunger.
Some animals have more complex nervous systems than others. Humans have a much more complex nervous system than snails. In fact, many animals have a much more complex nervous system than snails.
Snails Have a Simple Nervous System
Unlike mammals, snails are invertebrates. Because they’re an invertebrate, their nervous systems are quite different from vertebrate nervous systems. Snails don’t have a brain as we do. In a snail, the cell bodies of their nerve cells are formed into nerve knots. These knots are found in very important parts of their bodies.
Hypothetically, if a snail were to fall off a wall, what would typically cause them pain if they had a more complex nervous system, won’t’ affect them like that. They will have a purely reflexive reaction, but the nerves won’t send a signal to let the snail know it’s hurting.
Do Snails Feel Pain When They’re Boiled?
If you’ve ever ordered snails at a restaurant or purchased some to cook at home, those snails aren’t dead prior to cooking. In fact, if you purchase snails to cook at home, you’ll notice instructions that tell you not to cook a dead snail.
One of the most common ways people cook snails for meals is by boiling them. This practice is very similar to cooking lobster. Since their nervous systems aren’t complex, you don’t need to worry about the snails you’re about to order, feel any pain before you eat them. While researchers believe snails cannot suffer or feel pain, if you’re skeptical, boiling them is quick, and if on the off chance they feel pain, it will be only for seconds.
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Where is Eating Snails Popular?
France is the first country that comes to mind when you mention eating snails for most people. But, France isn’t the only country that is known for consuming and creating delicious snail-based dishes.
Eating snails is very common in Europe. Other countries on the continent that regularly eat snails include Spain, Italy, Portugal, Malta, and Germany. There are plenty of other places around the world that enjoy snails, but these are some of the most common.
Popular Dishes Made With Snails
In the United States, we don’t eat a lot of snails, but that’s not to say people don’t. They’re incredibly popular throughout Europe.
One popular snail dish in Europe is from Italy called Lumache alla Roma. When made traditionally, snails are braised in tomato sauce and then flavored with chili, mint, and anchovies.
Another tasty snail dish is from Spain. Caracoles a la Andaluza is a popular tapa that combines snails and sausage in a tomato sauce with seasonings and brandy.
You can’t forget about the most well-known snail dish. The French are famous for their escargot. This is a delicacy all over France. It’s prepared by removing the snails from their shells and then cooking them in garlic butter and wine. Many people will serve the snails still in their shells, but some places will serve them without shells.
What Happens if You Put Salt on a Snail?
Well, if you put salt on a cooked snail, it’ll taste pretty good. But if you toss some salt on a snail that’s alive, it will die. Their bodies cannot process salt, and it actually dehydrates their slime skin, causing them to die.
As we’ve established, snails can’t feel pain or suffer. So if you are planning to cook them and think dousing them in salt is the more humane way to go, it’s all relatively humane since they can’t feel pain.
How Big Are Snails?
Most species of snails are small. The snails you’ll most commonly see will only be anywhere from a few centimeters to a couple of inches big. But there are some snails that can get up to 12 inches.
Australia is the home for the largest snails, though. A Giant Whelk is a marine snail that can grow to about 70 centimeters. That’s 28 inches or a little over two feet!
While the Giant Whelk takes the cake for the largest marine snail, the largest land snail is the Giant African Snail. These snails can get to a foot in size and weigh around two pounds.
This number may blow your mind, or it may not. There are over 60,000 different species of classified snails that have been discovered on Earth. That includes both land and marine snails.
If you don’t cook a snail, they can have quite a long lifespan. Snails in captivity have lived up to 25 years, whereas in the wild, they tend to live closer to five or six years.
Coming in first place for snail consumption is France. The French consume nearly 30,000 snails annually. But coming in second to France is Portugal.