According to Jeremy Corbyn, who has an allotment, the “best way to be healthy is to get your hands dirty in the soil”.
So, when a left-leaning garden snail was found in London, it was named ‘Jeremy’ after the Labour leader.
The snail’s shell coiled to the left, whereas those of all other garden snails spiral to the right, Tory-style. Snails are hermaphrodites. Individuals copulate mutually and both partners lay eggs.
Giving the snail a man’s name, instead of a gender-neutral one such as ‘Alex’ or ‘Kelly’, therefore, wasn’t quite politically correct.
In 2016, Angus Davison, an evolutionary biologist at Nottingham University, began studying ‘Jeremy’. According to a paper just published by him and a colleague, ‘sinistral’ shells “occur very rarely in most species”.
Much prized by collectors, “the developmental and genetic basis of these rare mirror-imaged individuals remains mysterious”. About 10% of people are ciothógs (left-handers), but the proportion of garden snails “kicking with the left foot” is tiny. Even ‘dextrocardia’, a condition in which the heart is located on the wrong side of the body, is more common; it occurs once in about 12,000 human pregnancies.
In some snail species, opposite-oriented individuals are relatively common. In pond snails, this ‘stereo’ effect is controlled by a maternal gene. Is a similar genetic twist encoded in the socialist snail’s DNA? If a gene were responsible, the trait might show up among the creature’s descendents, although it could take several generations for it to do so. It was imperative, therefore, that ‘Jeremy’, still a virgin, be married off quickly.
But there was a problem. Even if a Tory snail took a shine to him, the pair couldn’t easily consummate their union, their genitals being on opposite sides of their bodies. ‘Jeremy’ was condemned to a life of celibacy, unless a suitable left-oriented lover could be found for him.
Faced with a needle-in-a-haystack search to find another Marxist snail, Davidson sought help from the media. In 2016, the BBC asked radio listeners to keep an eye out for a suitor. Newspapers, including the Guardian and The New York Times, carried the match-making appeal. Citizen scientists, worldwide, managed to find over 40 left-coiling snails.
During a three-year period, more than 15,000 eggs, spanning four generations, were hatched from these lefties. All of the resulting hatchlings turned out to be right-coiling.
‘Jeremy’ proved to be no Casanova. Two left-leaning snails, to which he was introduced, had eyes only for each other. They produced 179 offspring together, all of them right-orientated.
But Jeremy “didn’t die wondering”; shortly before he went to his eternal reward, one of the potential consorts took pity and mated with him. About a third of the 56 offspring produced through the union, were likely to be ‘Jeremy’s’. All of them, needless to say, were right-wingers.
Two leftist parents, Davidson and his colleague conclude, only create right-wing babies. Coiling to the left, they believe, generally results from a “developmental accident”, although they don’t say how the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune produce such an effect.
Snails of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your shells!