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Snail-sucking snakes

Have you ever eaten snails? I have eaten them cooked in butter and garlic. You dig the snail out of its shell with a tiny fork, put it on fresh slice of bread and take a bite.

They were pretty tasty. But I will eat just about anything that’s cooked in garlic butter.

On restaurant menus snails are called by their French name, escargot. I think that’s because escargot sounds a lot better than snails.

Turns out researchers have identified five new species of snakes in Ecuador and Peru that like to eat snails without garlic and butter. The snakes grab on to the snail shells and suck the little critters out — snail slurping.

"Believe it or not, there is an entire group of snakes for which snails are food from the gods," said Alejandro Arteaga, a biology student in the American Museum of Natural History’s graduate school, in a press release. "But sadly, four of the five species we discovered are already facing the possibility of becoming extinct, as the forests remaining for them to survive are almost completely destroyed."

There are 70 species of snail-eating snakes that live in trees. They have special jaws that allow them to grasp the snail shell and suck the snail out. There may be even more snail-eating snakes that scientists haven’t yet identified.

“Unfortunately, our time to find them is likely running short,” Arteaga said. “These snakes are harmless to humans, but humans are not harmless to them."

The common garden snail, those you may find in your backyard, can be eaten. You shouldn’t just pick one up and pop it in the oven, though. Chefs feed their wild-caught snails cornmeal and water until they poop out any weed killers or poisonous plants they may have eaten. Then the snails are boiled and scrubbed to remove that slimy goo.

That seems like a lot of work for a tasty tidbit. Maybe snakes have the right idea: chomp and slurp.

— Brett French,

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