The other day I was botanising on a site that not only has fantastic orchids and other plants associated with warm limestone slopes, but also has a considerable population of Roman Snail Helix pomatia (Fr. Escargot de Bourgogne or gros blanc). Surprisingly many of the snails were out on the open chalk ground in the middle of quite a hot day (one of the few we've had this year...). What were they doing? One couple appeared to be preparing to mate, but most of the snails were on their own, and most of them, although large, were sub-adult. Were they collecting calcium for shell building (maybe the epiphragm used to seal them in the shell for estivation)? If so, why did they have to do it out in the open, which seems a bit risky? If any readers have any ideas I'd be interested to hear them.
These two appear to be courting.
Escargots à la bourguignonne is a traditional French dish based on Helix pomatia served at the Christmas eve family dinner. Snails have been eaten by humans since the dawn of time and the Roman Snail is distributed across eastern and central France. About 30 000 tonnes of snails are consumed in France annually, of which only about a thousand tonnes are farmed in France.
The term Escargot de bourgogne is a protected name, and only Roman Snails may be used in a dish referred to as Escargot de bourgogne. The species has been protected in France since 1979 due to its declining population, and collecting and selling them is regulated. Like so many wild creatures, they are declining due to the intensification of agriculture, modern drainage and habitat loss. Collecting them during the spring breeding period (1 April to 30 June) is forbidden. Collecting and selling them between 1 July and 31 March is allowed, so long as the shell has reached a diameter of 3 cm or more. A mature snail has a white reflexed rim and they take two to seven years to reach maturity. They can live for up to 35 years, and 10 to 20 year old snails in the wild would not be uncommon.
Wild collection is insufficient to supply the market and is mainly just for personal consumption. The snails served in restaurants have sometimes come from French snail farms or more likely, imported from Poland and other Eastern European countries in great quantities and at low cost. Commercial snails must be labelled with their country of origin and where they were processed.