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Jean Henri Fabre

The Spiral Snail

"W HEN the snail crawls, it bears aloft, as you know, four horns."

"Horns that come out and go in at will," added Jules.

"Horns that the animal turns every way," said Emile, "when you put the shell on the live coals. Then the snail sings be-be-be-eou-eou."

"Stop that cruel play, my child. The snail does not sing; it is complaining, in its own way, of the fiery tortures. Its slime, coagulated by the heat, first swells and then shrinks, and the air that escapes by little puffs produces that dying wail.

"In one of La Fontaine's fables, where there are so many good things about animals, he tells us that the lion, wounded by a horned animal,

"Straight banished from his realm, 't is said,

All sorts of beasts with horns—

Rams, bulls, goats, stags, and unicorns.

Such brutes all promptly fled.

A hare, the shadow of his ears perceiving,

Could hardly help believing

That some vile spy for horns would take them,

And food for accusation make them.

Adieu, said he, my neighbor cricket;

I take my foreign ticket.

My ears, should I stay here,

And were they shorter than a bird's,

I fear the effect of words.

These horns! the cricket answered; why,

God made them ears; who can deny?

Yes, said the coward, still they 'll make them horns,

And horns, perhaps, of unicorns!

In vain shall I protest.

"This hare evidently exaggerated things. Its ears have remained ears, to all observers. We do not know whether the snail exiled himself in these circumstances; man is almost unanimous in regarding as horns what the snail bears on its forehead. 'You call those horns!' the cricket would have exclaimed, being better advised than man; 'you must take me for a fool.' "

"Then they are not horns?" asked Jules.

"No, my dear. They are at once hands, eyes, nose, and a cane for the blind. They are called tentacles. There are two pairs of unequal length. The upper pair is the longer and more remarkable.

"Right at the end of each long tentacle you see a little black point. It is an eye as complete as that of the horse and ox, in spite of its minute dimensions. What is necessary for making an eye, you are far from suspecting. It is so complicated I will not try to tell you. And yet it is all to be found in that little black point that is scarcely visible. That is not all: beside the eye is a nose, that is to say an organ especially sensitive to odors. The snail sees and smells with the tips of its long tentacles."

"I have noticed that if you bring anything near the snail's long horns, the animal draws them in."

"This combination of nose and eye can retreat, advance, go to meet an object, and catch odors from all sides. To find a similar nose, you must go from a snail to an elephant, whose trunk is an exceptionally long nose. But how much superior the snail's is to the elephant's! Sensitive to odors and light, eye and nose at the same time, it can retire within itself like the finger of a glove, disappear by reëntering the animal's body, or come out from under the skin and lengthen itself like a telescope."



"I have often seen how the snail pulls his horns in," observed Emile. "They fold back inward and seem to bury themselves under the skin. When anything annoys it, the animal puts its nose and eyes into its pocket."

"Precisely. To protect ourselves from too strong a light or an unpleasant odor, we shut our pupils and stop up our nose. The snail, if the light troubles or some smell displeases it, sheathes eyes and nose in their covering; it puts them into its pocket, as Emile says."

"It is an ingenious way," Claire remarked.

"You said, too," interposed Jules, "that the horns served it as a blindman's cane."

"The animal is blind when it has drawn in its upper tentacles, partly or wholly; it then has only the two lower ones, which explore objects by the touch better than does the cane of a blind man, for they are very sensitive. The two upper tentacles, besides their functions of eye and nose, also play the part of blindman's cane, or, better still, that of a finger that touches and recognizes objects. You see, little Emile, one does not know everything about a snail when one knows its wail on the fire."

"I see. Who of us would have suspected that those horns are eyes, nose, blindman's cane, fingers, all at the same time?"