Tuesday, April 29, 2014

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Make a Snail Habitat & Snail Anatomy

Your preschoolers can be little scientists in your own backyard as they study and observe animals that live there...like snails!

You can make your own snail habitats in containers as simple as these buckets that are normally used to dig in the dirt.  Encourage your kiddos to add things they think the snails would enjoy.

As they build a habitat and watch the snails move inside it, you may want to talk about or point out some of these facts about land snails:

Fun Facts About Snails:

* Most land snails are herbivores and different types will eat a variety of plants, including leaves, flowers, and rotting material.
* Land snails often eat dirt so they have enough calcium to make a strong shell.
* Snail shells grow as the snail grows.  The oldest part of the shell is the middle of the spiral.
* The biggest snail is the Australian Trumpet Sea Snail.  Its shell can grow over 35 inches from tip to tip!
* The biggest land snail is the African Giant Snail.  Its shell can grow over 15 inches across!
* Snails are ectotherms (or "cold-blooded") because their temperature is regulated by the temperature of their surroundings.

Snail Anatomy:

Snails have a fascinating anatomy!  Below this picture are brief descriptions of some of the features preschoolers find most interesting...and a little bit of extra information for the adults too!

1.  Mouth:  Even though it's in a spot you'd expect to find it, the mouth can be tricky to find on very small snails.  Look closely under both tentacles!  The mouth is just for eating, not breathing!

2.  Shell:  The shell is the most stunning feature on a snail!  Some can grow quite big, some have gorgeous stripes, and some are very plain.  The shell grows with the snail.  New layers of shell are added on at the top of the opening where the snail comes out of the shell, creating a spiral pattern as time goes by. In order to make the shell, the snail must eat calcium.  It usually gets calcium by eating dirt.

3.  Foot:  The foot is the big muscle that crawls along the ground (or wall or plant...).  It moves by contracting and expanding.  It also has a gland to make mucus.  Mucus smooths the path for the snail and makes it easier for the snail to move.

4.  Nose:  The tips of the second (smaller) pair of tentacles have olfactory glands on them and work like a nose.  Not all snails have them.

5.  Eyes:  The tips of the large tentacles have eyes on them.

6.  Pneumostome:  A small pore (or opening) for breathing.  The pneumostome connects to the snail's one lung and lets the snail breathe.  It is on the snail's right side, but it is difficult to see the pneumostome because the shell often covers it.  Slugs also have a pneumostome in a much easier-to-see spot.  The pneumostome can be opened and closed.

7.  Gender:  I can't count how many preschoolers want to know if their snail is a boy or girl.  The truth is, most snails are hermaphrodites (they have both male and female parts).  Apple snails are a notable exception, and here is a good explanation on how to identify apple snail gender.

I hope you enjoy making your snail habitats and studying the awesome little animals in your backyard!  I'd love to see pictures of any habitats you make...feel free to share a link here or a picture on our PreschoolPowolPackets Facebook page!

I may share at any of these parties!