|The Story Book of Science|
|by Jean Henri Fabre|
|The wonders of plant and animal life told with rare literary charm by Uncle Paul in conversations with three children. Besides such stories as the ants' subterranean city, the spider's suspension bridge, and the caterpillars' processing, he unlocks the mystery behind thunder and lightning, clouds and rain, the year and its seasons, and volcanoes and earthquakes. Ages 9-12 |
THE SPIRAL SNAIL
HEN the snail crawls, it bears aloft, as you know, four
"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
"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,
 Will turn to horns, I fear;
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
"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
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?"
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