Loneliest snail on earth has offspring and turns out to be the result of a rare accident

The loneliest snail on earth has babies and turns out to be the result of a rare accident
Image: Angus Davison University of Nottingham

The popular super-rare snail had a rather remarkable house that did not turn clockwise as with most snails, but instead counterclockwise. To further study this phenomenon, researchers called on the public to find a love partner for Jeremy who, like himself, has a shell that turns in the ‘wrong’ direction. Although for a moment it seemed as if Jeremy was not destined to find the one, the snail eventually managed to produce offspring on the trap bar. And that brings interesting new insights.

Who is Jeremy?

The story begins in 2016 when a retired British scientist discovers Jeremy. It puzzled researchers. Because how is it possible that Jeremy’s shell rotates counterclockwise? Is it an error in its development or something genetic? To answer that question, Jeremy actually had to mate with another snail. But that is easier said than done. Because not only Jeremy’s shell turns the other way. His genitals are also mirrored, which makes it difficult to mate with an ‘ordinary’ snail. While snails are hermaphrodites – meaning they can reproduce independently – they don’t like to do this. And so there actually had to be found a snail with a shell that turned the wrong way like Jeremy’s. An appeal was made and countless British people searched their garden. In the end, two snails with the same condition were introduced to Jeremy: Lefty and Tomeu. However, these two snails were found to be like each other better than Jeremy who left them flop-lost.

Researchers hoped to use Jeremy’s offspring to study the genetics of the exceptional condition. But when it turned out that Jeremy was less popular among snails than among humans, the attention was shifted to the other snails with left-turning houses. In three years, nearly fifteen thousand eggs were born out of four generations of snails.

What about Jeremy? For a moment, it looked like this unfortunate snail was going to die alone. But at the drop bar, he still managed to find the love of his life. This led to Jeremy becoming the father of – probably – eighteen offspring in his old age. “After a long search for a partner and several mishaps along the way, Jeremy eventually produced offspring,” says researcher Angus Davidson. “Good news for me and the rest of the world.”

Jeremy’s offspring and those of other snails with left-turning shells were thoroughly studied to undetrace the mystery of the particular condition. And this shows that two snails with a shell rotating against the clock, they bring ordinary snails with a house that rotates clockwise into the world. “We’ve learned that twice the left makes the right again,” Davidson sums up briefly.

It means that Jeremy and other species that exhibit the same phenomenon are not hereditarily burdened. “Our findings show that it is usually a rare accident and not an inherited condition,” Davidson concludes. At least, under squiggly snails. “In other snails, their left-handedness is an inherited condition. However, we still do not understand exactly what this is about. If we can unravel this, it will provide information about how organs are placed precisely in the body of other animals, including ourselves.”

Moreover, this will also give us more insight into why this sometimes goes wrong and organs end up mirrored in the body. Because snails are not the only ones who have asymmetry; Think of people who have their hearts on the right instead of the left. While it may seem like a big leap from snail houses turning leftward to human ‘situs inversus’ as it is called, it is possible that future studies may teach us more about this phenomenon. And that will help us understand why some babies are born, for example, with their hearts on the right.

Jeremy’s story ended well after all. The snail died at a respectable age of two years. “At the end of the day, Jeremy had a happy ending,” davidson says. “He successfully found a love partner – albeit just before he died – and produced offspring.” Moreover, the snail was also very interesting for science, although he still took secrets with him to the grave. “You could say that we tried to figure out exactly what made Jeremy different,” davidson said. “But that was simply not possible. Jeremy was special.”