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The typical mollusc has a calcareous shell, muscular foot, head with mouth and sense organs,
and a visceral mass containing most of the gut, the heart, gonads, and kidney. Dorsally the
body wall is the mantle and a fold of this body wall forms and encloses that all important
molluscan chamber, the mantle cavity. The mantle cavity is filled with water or air and in it
are located the gill, anus, nephridiopore and gonopore.The coelom is reduced to small spaces
including the pericardial cavity containing the heart and the gonocoel containing the gonad.
The well-developed hemal system consists of the heart and vessels leading to a
spacious hemocoel in which most of the viscera are located. The kidneys are large
metanephridia. The central nervous system is cephalized and tetraneurous. There is a
tendency to concentrate ganglia in the circumenteric nerve ring from which arise four major
longitudinal nerve cords.

Helix spp.
Family: Helicidae

Species: Helix pomatia Linnaeus, 1758

Common Name: Roman snail, Edible snail, Vineyard snail


Helix pomatia has a large shell that can attain a height of 30-50 mm and a width of 32-50 mm.
There are a total of 5-6 whorls. The thin shell of this snail is globose with a wrinkled surface,
giving the appearance of faint spiral lines. The shell has a brownish color often classified as
chamois. This chamois color is often interrupted by wide cinnamon-brown stripes.
The stripes may be either distinct or ill-defined. The aperture is large with a slightly expanded
pecan brown lipthat is broadly reflected at the collumela, partially covering the umbilicus.
Helix is often used in invertebrate zoology courses as an example of pulmonate anatomy. The
exercise is based on H. aspersa but either species can be used. Preserved animals are a
uniform brown color Helix is a typical, shelled, coiled, torted pulmonate snail and as such is
well chosen to serve as a representative pulmonate.

Native Range: Central and Southeastern Europe, and the Mediterranean region

Distribution: North America: U.S.: Michigan, Wisconsin

Europe: Mediterranean region

Ecology: This group of species can be found in greenhouses, grassy areas, forests, gardens
and orchards where they may attain pest status. Their longevity is approximately 5 years,
although specimens of H. pomatiahave been documented to live for over 20 years.

External Anatomy
Place a preserved or relaxed, extended, freshly killed animal in a dish of water and examine
its exterior.

Shell - Helix is coiled and torted. It is brown with

darker brown spiral stripes and is covered by a
thin proteinaceous periostracum.

How to prepare the animal for dissection

Live specimens should be
drowned in an airtight container
that is completely filled with water. Dissecting microscope
The animal should be left until
completely Water
drowned (i.e., unresponsive to touch).
Dissecting dish

This will make it easier to dissect
the specimen, as it kills the animal Scalpel
in an extended state (not contracted).
Small snails may also be euthanized Dissecting scissors
by emersion in boiling water.
Specimens usually expire in a relaxed Pliers

state and should be removed from

4-inch C-clamp or small vice grip (optional)
boiling water when no longer
responsive to touch. 70 % Ethanol (optional)

The specimen should then be Curved forceps (optional)

transferred to a dissecting dish
containing 70 % ethanol or water. The 4 stainless steel insect pins (optional)

solution should completely cover the

specimen to minimize dehydration of the tissues.

Specimens should never be left in water for extended periods as rapid deterioration of tissues
may occur. For humane purposes, ensure that the animal is completely unresponsive to touch
before initiating the dissection.


Remove the animal from the shell.

In some cases, it may be possible to remove the dead animal from its shell using curved
forceps. If this is not possible, slowly break the shell from the aperture backwards, following
the whorls, until the animal can be removed from the shell intact. (It is important to retain the
broken pieces of the shell for identification purposes). A pair of needle-nose pliers may be
used depending on the size of the animal’s shell.
Submerge “Shell-less” animal in 75% Ethanol or Water


Diagram showing a Helix species

with the shell removed was
provided to assist with the
orientation of the specimen.
Place the “shell-less” adult
specimen in a dish with 75%
ethanol or water covering it.


Uncoil snail and make an incision above the mantle skirt

Slowly uncoil the portion of the animal that was inside the shell to expose its contents. Make
an incision just above the mantle skirt. Be sure to make shallow incisions and angle the
scissors upwards, and away from the internal organs. Cut as far along the skirt as possible.
4. STEP - Cut along the length of the thin membrane.

Avoid all internal organs/structures by only cutting the thin (transparent) membrane. Continue
with the incision along the edge of the membrane all the way to the first whorl. This will
expose portions of the reproductive and digestive system. Also, cut along the lines indicated
in Figure 12 to expose the base of both systems.

5. STEP - Peel back the membrane to expose the internal organs

Peel back the transparent membrane to expose the internal organs. Continue with the incision
All the way to the end of the coiled regions of the animal (portion that was retained inside the
shell). The animal may be inverted to accomplish this.
6. STEP - Remove ovotestis from digestive gland

Slowly tease the ovotestis and the albumen gland away from the digestive gland. Both organs
can be carefully separated with a pair of tweezers. Once dislodged, both systems can be


Cut forward into the mantle skirt to expose the base of the reproductive system

Rotate the animal unto the side (may have to hold in hands) and cut into the mantle skirt
going forward, towards the head. Be sure to make the incision between the ocular tentacles.
This cut will expose the basal region of the reproductive system.

The pins can be removed from the specimen for photography or closer examination.
8. STEP - Detach the reproductive system

Gently separate the reproductive system from the digestive system. Note the genital opening. Make
incisions along the broken lines. Be careful to avoid cutting through the atrium. This incision will
detach the entire reproductive system form the rest of the animal. Use an insect pin to gently unravel
the vas deferens, bursa copulatrix, oviduct, flagellum, and penis by following the connection to each.
Anal pore: Small opening located in the mantle; may be located anteriorly or posteriorly and
is responsible for waste removal by the animal.

Apex: The tip of the spire of a shell.

Breathing pore: This is the breathing hole on the right side of the mantle of molluscs. This
allows air to pass through to the mantle for gas exchange.

Callus: An area of the shell that is thickened.

Foot: The muscular organ on the undersurface of the body of a mollusc upon which the
animal rests or uses to crawl.

Gastropod: A single-shelled mollusc.

Mantle: A fleshy, membranous covering of the anterior portion of the body of a mollusc. It
secretes the materials that form the shell.

Mantle cavity: The gap or space between the mantle and the visceral mass.

Operculum: A rigid structure that blocks the opening/aperture of the shell (partially/wholly)
when the body of the snail is retracted. This structure is often attached dorsal to the tail of the
animal. It can be chitinous, proteinaceous or calcareous. Often observed in aquatic species.

Periostracum: This is a thin membrane that coats the shell, often comprised of chitin or
proteinaceous substances. This material may be smooth, or covered in hair or 'scale-like'

Peristome: Margin of the aperture of a snail's shell. This region may be thickened in mature

Radula: A rasp-like or ribbon-shaped structure that bears rows of teeth used in feeding.

Shell: A hard, inflexible, calcareous or chitinous structure that vary in size and may either
completely encasing the animal, covering some part of it or be internal.

Tentacles: Sensory projections on the head end of a mollusc. There are generally two pairs;
upper (posterior) and smaller, lower (anterior). The upper pair bears the eyes. In many snails
the eyes are located at the tips of this structure; however, in Basommatophoran snail species,
the eyes are located at the base of the tentacles.

Visceral mass: The region of the mollusc's body that contains the organs.

Whorl: A complete spiral turn/growth of the shell of a mollusc. The whorls are counted from
the apex outwards.

Whorls: Pleural of whorl. A whorl is a complete spiral turn/growth of the shell of a mollusc.
The whorls are counted from the apex outwards.