Snail shell

Snails grow with their shells.

Dear Naturalist,

I noticed on my walks this week that there are snail shells everywhere. Just the shell, no actual snail. What gives?

— JL, Boone


I, too, have observed many empty snail shells in areas next to trails and roads. How did they get there? To answer this question, I turned to Boone’s very own snail expert, Amy Van Devender. She spent years collecting and identifying snails along the Blue Ridge Parkway, an effort that led to more than 100 species being added to the park’s register.

“Some snails are annuals so they lay their eggs and then die,” Van Devender said. “Why you see more dead shells in the spring is that the leaf litter has been compacted, and with heavy rains the shells wash out and down the slopes.”

“Many other species of snails can live two or three years so they go down under cover and re-emerge as the weather gets better,” she said.

All snails grow with their shells and cannot survive if removed from their protective, spiral homes. To grow, they must eat a diet that is high in calcium — which is why we often find them in our spinach and broccoli gardens. Snails in the forest will eat plants, fungi, lichen and even the empty shells of other snails.

The shells also provide a scrumptious, calcium-rich snack for birds, salamanders, and rodents — signaling their important place in the web of life that exists right outside our backdoors.

If you have a question concerning flora and fauna, email All of your questions will be answered. One or two will be featured next week. See you on the trails.

Amy Renfranz is a Certified Naturalist through the Yellowstone Association Institute and a Certified Environmental Educator in the state of North Carolina.

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