Snails & Hearing: Recapitulation & Results

Hypothesis: Snails can differentiate frequencies of sound.

Process: Over the duration of 6 days, four snails were tested after having 8 days of training to associate reward with the left or right side of a y-maze depending on the frequency of a sine wave. The side is assigned from the view of the experimenter (looking at the maze from the viewpoint of the reward). When the reward was on the left side, the sound played at 130hz, within the average male voice range. When the reward was offered on the right side, the sound played at 220hz, within the average female voice range. There was no control and many variables. Nonetheless, the results are provided here.

Analysis & Results:

Benchmarks were determined as nil (did not go any direction), three goal positive behaviors (head goes in goal side first, body goes in goal side first, body reaches goal cap), and three goal negative behaviors (head goes in non-goal side first, body goes in non-goal side first, body reaches non-goal cap). Only one snail would go down one way and then the other and e only did each way once so I cancelled out those data points. Another issue was on the last day, one of the caps came off completely and I didn’t see for several minutes, making the last of Dr. Strange’s runs useless, so they were removed from the final results.

I have here three charts. The first is showing behaviors by day, the second is behaviors by snail, and the third is overall number of behaviors.

snail-behaviors-bar-graph-exploratory-experimentsnail-behaviors-in-maze-by-individual-exploratory-experimentsnail-behaviors-in-maze-totals-exploratory-experiment

This data shows 58.7% goal positive behaviors, 21.7% goal negative behaviors, and 19.6% nil behaviors. Or 58.7% goal positive behaviors and 41.3% other behaviors. Due to this majority of goal positive behaviors, it seems that there is indication that snails may be able to differentiate between sound frequencies.

Raw data from all 6 days:  snailnotes9-sept7, snailnotes10-sept8, snailnotes11-sept9, snailnotes12-sept10, snailnotes13-sept11, snailnotes14-sept12

Follow up:

More study is necessary to render stronger evidence of whether or not snails can differentiate between sound frequencies through testing with more snails and fewer variables. In the next months (hopefully by January), I propose to try this experiment again with a more refined maze, sound proofed (or at least reduced) environment, better speakers, video recording of events, and more snails: 12 test snails and 2 controls. Before training, snails will be screened so that fewer (or none) are eliminated during training. More details to come.

Additionally, advice from other scientists is requested! I would like advice on better analysis techniques and/or benchmarks, recommended statistics or other tools to improve the fidelity of the experiment.

 

Featured photo of this jewelry.

 

 

 

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Snails & Hearing: Training Days Close

On this gloriously breezy, perfect Pennsylvania day, I write to you about the snails and their progress. Today was their final day of training (as well as the final day to figure out who goes on to the testing). It’s been an interesting week. Many snails have been removed from the experiment and many more realizations have occurred for improving on this experiment in the future.

I left off on Thursday, and I have Friday through today to report.

Friday – September 2

220hz. Right side goal. Basil reward offered.

5 snails make it: Trails, Rogue, Dr. Strange, Muscles, and Big Yellow! 2 are removed: Yellow Belly and Gary. 9 snails total remain in for the time being.

Highlights:

Rogue takes over 29 minutes of eir 30 available (ugh).

Muscles seems to be back in action after the tough night before. I will continue to test in the morning. Adding the evenings seems potentially confusing for me and possibly the snails.

Backward Spiral barely moves, worrying me about em more.

Yellow Belly is removed because this is eir third uncompleted run in a row. Gary is removed because e did not make it and although I wanted to count the two before as successes, they were debatable.

Raw researcher’s notes: snailnotes5-sept2

Saturday – September 3

Day off for everyone!

Sunday – September 4

130 hz. Left side goal. Cucumber reward offered.

6 snails make it: Trails, Dr. Strange, Big Yellow, Isabella, Smotchkkiss, and Rogue. Backward Spiral is removed at this is the 3rd maze e has not completed and no longer seems to move in the maze (*tear). 8 snails move on.

Highlights:

Once again, Rogue takes nearly the entire 30 minutes to complete the maze.

Smotchkkiss and Big Yellow make me nuts by going down the wrong side first, all the way to the cap, then they go back and complete the maze. This is problematic because during testing, I would have ended it at the other side, possibly giving a false negative. It makes me wonder if I should give them the full 30 minutes during the tests; yet, I don’t think that would make sense since both sides will be capped and the likelihood is that many snails might try both sides looking for the exit. The idea is that the sound will encourage them to go to one side first. So, this is confusing.

Muscles doesn’t complete the maze again, opting for the cap of the wrong side.

Raw researcher’s notes: snailnotes6-sept4

Monday – September 5

130hz. Left side goal. Strawberry reward offered.

4 snails complete the maze: Trails, Smotchkkiss, Big Yellow, and Dr. Strange. Rogue and Dr. Quinary are removed. 6 snails remain.

Highlights

Smotchkkiss has the same result two days in a row!!! E had been alternating days completing and not completing, but here we go!

Muscles, one of my golden children in the beginning, has not completed the maze again.

Dr. Strange and Trails have completed the maze the last 4 times in a row. Big Yellow for the last 5.

Raw researcher’s  notes: snailnotes7-sept5

Tuesday – September 6 – final day of training

220hz. Right side goal. Carrot reward offered.

This is the last chance for Smotchkkiss and Muscles. If they don’t make it, then they won’t have completed the maze the majority of the time and they will be removed. I need at least 5 out of 8 training days to have been a success.

5 snails successfully complete the maze: Trails, Isabella, Big Yellow, Dr. Strange, and Smotchkkiss. Muscles is retired to the terrarium.

Highlights

Trails, Big Yellow, and Dr. Strange have completed the maze 7 out of 8 times! Isabella, 6 out of 8! Smotchkkiss 5 out of 8! Smotchkkiss though, only gets half way out, barely in time. It was so frustrating. I don’t think Smotchkkiss is actually a very good test subject, but I will test em anyway.

Raw researcher’s notes: snailnotes8-sept6

So far

This has been an interesting run for me so far. I’ve learned so much – about the equipment I would need to improve the experiment, about scientists working with snails that I should try to contact to get tips, about patience and bias, about why scientist go to such great lengths to remove variables and create consistency as there will inevitably be more variables and inconsistencies to discover, about snails (these ones and in general), and so on. I also realized that the first few snails I removed from the experiment, I did so prematurely due to the number of days I was training; had they figured it out a day later, they may have still gotten the majority of the days. So, I will not be so hasty next time and plan in advance how I will do eliminations.

Testing begins tomorrow. Despite the many flaws in the experiment so far, I’m interested to see what happens and gain more insight on how this experiment should be improved in the future.

 

Featured image of Dr. Strange, Big Yellow, Isabella, Muscles, Dr. Quinary, and Trails. Taken by me, outside, in natural light.

Snails & Hearing: 1st Full Days

Monday the experiment restarted!

I made some adjustments to the maze. You know those fancy little jars at fancy places that jelly and and whatnot come in? Well, last time I was somewhere fancy and they had those, I kept them, I didn’t really know why other than that they seemed like a sad thing to waste. So glad I did. They fit perfectly to cap the ends of the maze.

I start the snails in the entrance cap, have the “wrong” side capped, and then the other side has it’s cap sitting next to the exit, face down, so the snails have the option to climb on it. After seeing the snails try to fold themselves over and fail to get out. So, on the “correct” side there is also a little rock taped to the top. And, of course, their food reward. Whatever the reason, be it fresh air, or freedom, or food, there is incentive to go the “correct” way.

The maze also has a more enclosed fork. There is ventilation, but no spaces through which they could escape.

I am also setting everything up with my hands. This is adding more variables in one way, but also reducing some of the randomness of tossing food and such in with a spoon.

They are only being tested once a day as I’m giving them up to 30 minutes to complete the maze and I can’t spend more time than that (I’m having to scrape at my days just to do that). Therefore, the training period will go on until Monday. Tuesday, we’ll start the actual testing.

On each side of the maze near the fork, there are stereo speakers playing the sound. There is also static. Additionally, there are random sounds during the day and the allotted experiment time that are outside of my control. And it’s hard to be sure that, if snails can hear, that the other snails can’t hear the noise.

With all these changes, I still think it’s possible to derive some information. However, if I repeat this experiment some day, I will find a way to afford to make a more soundproof space, get a proper y-maze that will be less hacky and more consistent all the way through (plus, probably easier to clean), get some gloves and proper tools with which to do setup. Get some wireless speakers so that they aren’t subject to slight movements when I accidentally move my computer. There would be plenty to change and improve.

y maze new
Improved y-maze.

 

But, you’re probably wonder how the little guys are doing!

Note: Snails are hermaphroditic and to more appropriately label them, I have chosen Spivak pronouns. I hope I am doing it right.

Monday

130hz, left side goal (from researcher’s point of view; from the entrance, it’d be right), and a red leaf lettuce reward.

It was a tough first day in that it was 9.5 hrs long for me. Not exactly sustainable, but they were just learning, so I was not discouraged.

5 out of 13 snails completed the maze successfully. Muscles, Isabella, Dr. Strange, Backward Spiral, and Trails. I had not yet taped the rock on to help them go over the top (as they are high dwelling beings). Had I, I suspected that Yellow Belly, Big Yellow, and Dr. Quinary would have also made it as they were all but the shell out of the maze, just couldn’t get up on the top where they tried to go.

Trails and Lettuce
Trails enjoying eir reward!

For the (completely) raw data, filled with all my agony and joy, see the PDFs attached (I have not even edited them, and I do a combination of talking to myself, an imaginary audience, or the snails.. they’re really, really raw – and it’s evidence that I really, really need a camcorder for the sake of both my sanity and to help remove bias). SnailNotes1-Aug27-29

Tuesday

A much better day (for me and the success of the snails).

220hz, right side goal, with a cucumber reward.

7 of the 13 made it successfully: Muscles, Dr. Strange, Backward Spiral, Trails, Smotchkkiss, Dr. Quinary, and Yellow Belly. Isabella was close as was Big Yellow. The other four though, were giving me strong doubts. Twice in a row, Broken Shell had gone and stayed on the undesired side. Abigail would not pass the speakers either day. Rogue (who I worry about as E seems underweight), would not go passed the speakers Monday and wouldn’t even leave the cap today. On Monday, Gary had slowly made it to the speakers then eventually (and slowly) went back to the entrance. Tuesday, he made it to the fork but no further. I decided to test each one again on Wednesday, but depending on how they did, I will considered removing them from the experiment. They are all great snails, but that doesn’t mean they make great subjects (as I know all too well). Raw data: SnailNotes2-Aug30

Also, I found out that, as far as we know, snails cannot see color. This is a thing I’d like to look into further which, I think, would help me understand the inner workings of the eye.

Wednesday

220hz, right side goal, with a strawberry reward.

Only 5 snails made it successfully: Muscles, Backward Spiral, Isabella, Big Yellow, and, the most exciting surprise, Rogue. I had been almost sure e would be removed today, but e didn’t just improve, e did the whole thing beautifully. Gary also improved, making it to the end of the correct side, just not fully exiting, but it was enough that e will be staying in the experiment. Abigail and Broken Shell made no progress so have been removed from the experiment (and once they were retired to the terrarium, they came alive! They just weren’t cut out for the experiment).

The rest though, especially Trails, bothered me that they didn’t finish. I was concerned that my cleanings of the maze weren’t good enough and they were following mucus trails rather than going toward the reward. But more likely, the ones toward the end of the day (after about 11a) seem to be generally more sluggish. Keeping this in mind, I’ll be starting early tomorrow and give the maze a much more thorough cleaning tonight. I need the ones that go into the actual testing to make it consistently to the finish, so I will do my best to make the conditions optimal.

At this point, only Muscles and Backward Spiral have completed the maze all days. A few others have done 2 out of 3, but I’d like more than that going into the test. Granted, there will be some statistics done, so even if some mess up despite whether or not they can hear, there still may be evidence to derive, but I’m just not sure I want to move forward with snails that haven’t completed the maze at least the last three days leading up to the testing.

Raw data: SnailNotes3-Aug31

Thursday we move forward with 11 snails…

Thursday

Today was a day of success, I think.

130hz, left side goal, with a soaked oat reward.

The reward was a hit, I think. Each day they either get hungrier or I’m giving them better stuff. Most of them still aren’t going for the food, but some eat hungrily after I put them back in their bins.

6 snails completed the maze in the morning. Yay for Smotchkkiss, Big Yellow, Isabella, Dr. Strange, Dr. Quinary, and Trails!!!

There was a monumental issue while testing Backward Spiral. E was on eir way down the maze and began to go the correct way to get out of the maze when a lot of things happened at once: A woman’s shrill voice sounded from downstairs and also a girl’s voice (we’re testing 130hz, in the male range, so that could have been confusing), and even if they can’t hear, there were also two people stomping up and down the stairs and the sound of the door slamming. Backward Spiral stopped moving and I could notably feel all of these things with my body and not just my ears, except the voices. I was shook up on my own, and I can only imagine what a tiny creature would have made of it. What I saw was eir retract and then start moving the other direction, into the enclosed space. I can’t be sure, but it seems like e chose a sense of safety over freedom. I was furious.

As a result of this as well as the fact that it was after 11a which seems to be when they all get sluggish (though e wasn’t terribly sluggish (slow, sure); that was a quick turn out of where e was going and the other direction) and I’d decided to stop testing at 11AM and start testing the rest after 6PM (they seem to be crepuscular animals which means that they’re move lively in the hours around dawn and hours around dusk), I decided I would retest Backward Spiral that evening and also test Muscles then.

Neither of them completed the maze. 😦

So, 6 snails were successful today. Although Gary has not exited the maze, e has gone to the end and played there for the past two days. In the actual testing, this will be sufficient, so I’m keeping em in. Of those that did exit today, they will also be staying as well as Muscles and Backward Spiral, though I am now confused.

Rogue and Yellow Belly will be considered for removal tomorrow. Yellow Belly has not completed the maze for the passed two days and Rogue did not venture passed the speakers, once again. I don’t know what happened yesterday, but I think it was a fluke. If e does not repeat that action tomorrow, e will be removed. If Yellow Belly goes a third day without success, e will also be removed. I need consistency and proof that they’re learning in a way that is meaningful to the experiment. It’s possible that they either find the vibrations soothing so want to stay near the speakers, or their motivation is different than the other snails; but, I need them to go to the correct end of the maze to make visible to me that they are possibly associating the sound with the desired endpoint. That way, when the training is over and actual testing begins, there may be more significant evidence one way or the other in terms of differentiating frequencies.

Raw data: SnailNotes4-Sept1

 

So Far

We continue forward. The training period is expected to end on Monday, then, the testing begins.

 

Images were taken by me, on on my Samsung S3, like all the snail photos. Featured image is of Muscles (in the back), Big Yellow, Isabella, Dr. Strange, Dr. Quinary, and Trails.

 

Snails & Hearing Experiment: Meet the Subjects

As promised, this is a post with each snail’s profile. Get ready to say:

“HELLO!”

BIG YELLOW
Big Yellow’s Description: Very active. Large, yellow snail. Shell Length: 12mm. Wet Weight: Aug 23rd, Evening – 3.13g; Aug 25th, Morning – 2.55g.
BROKEN SHELL
Broken Shell’s Description: Very Active. Dark brown with slightly darker skin. Shell broken in front of second whirl and back of first. Shell Length: 11mm. Shell Weight: Aug 24th, Morning – 2.42g; Aug 25th, Evening – 2.74g.
DR.QUINARY
Dr. Quinary’s Description: Somewhat active. Whitish shell with various other colors and five stripes. Small, with rugged shell. Shell Length: 10mm. Wet Weight: Aug 23rd, Evening – 2.39g; Aug 25th, Morning – 2.27g.
Smotchkkiss
Smotchkkiss’s Description: Very Active. Mostly brown with a little pink/yellow going to brown on the inner coils. Patchy, rugged shell. Shell Length: 11mm. Wet Weight: Aug 24th, Morning – 2.23g; Aug 25th, Evening – 2.24g. Top right photo taken indoors.
TRAILS
Trails’ Description: Very active. Long spiraled shell, light brown to yellow, with one stripe. Smooth shell with smear through stripe on second coil. Shell Length: 11mm. Wet Weight: Aug 24th, Morning – 3.04g; Aug 25th, Evening – 2.9g.
MUSCLES
Muscle’s Description: Active. Was seen pushing a rock and other snails through dirt (hence the name). Pale yellowy green shell with three thick stripes (one of them is huge and covers most of the lower part of the shell) with some gaps in stripes. Shell Length: 12mm. Wet Weight: Aug 23rd, Evening – 3.25g; Aug 25th, Morning – 2.6g.
YELLOW BELLY
Yellow Belly”s Description: Active. Brown with yellow. Smooth, round shell. In the last few weeks, this snail went from nearly inactive with a frail shell to being healthy and active. Shell Length: 11mm. Wet Weight: Aug 24th, Morning – 2.36g; Aug 25th, Evening – 2.33g.
Rogue
Rogue’s Description: Active. Yellow, spiraling to green. Dark skin. Seems underweight (may be why when found, he had retracted so far into shell). Shell Length: 11mm. Wet Weight: Aug 23rd, Evening – 2.11g; Aug 25th, Morning – 2.28g. Top right photo was taken indoors after he was discovered.
Backward Spiral
Backward Spiral;s Description: Somewhat active. Small, brown, one stripe, smooth shell. Shell Length: 10mm. Wet Weight: Aug 24th, Morning – 2.08g; Aug 25th, Evening – 2.17g.
ISABELLA
Isabella’s Description: Active. Pinkish shell with one thick stripe on bottom, two medium stripes, and one thin one (four total). It appears there are horizontal lines that look lighter between the dark stripes. Shell length: 12mm. Wet Weight: Aug 23rd, Evening – 2.78g. Aug 25th, Morning – 2.95g.
DR. STRANGE
Dr. Strange’s Description: Active. Light brown, somewhat pink, somewhat yellow, with one stripe, oblong shell (sorta comes to a point in the back). Shell is a bit rugged. Small shell, but length is longer due to its elongation. Shell Length: 11mm. Wet Weight: Aug 23rd, Evening – 2.25g; Aug 25th, Morning – 2.28g.
GARY
Gary’s Description: Active. Small. Very pink, rugged shell. Shell Length: 10mm. Wet Weight: Aug 24th, Morning – 1.88g; Aug 25th, Evening – 1.83g.
ABIGAIL
Abigail’s Description: Active. Dark brown, white in between whirls. Shell Length: 11mm. Wet Weight: Aug 23rd, Evening – 2.37g; Aug 25th, Morning – 2.57g.

 

Note about photography: All photos, including featured photo, are unaltered, taken outside in natural light, unless otherwise specified.

Snailing and Hearing Experiment: The First Day In, Much Learned

Thurs, Aug 18:

Success on finding more snails! Avery (Drew‘s younger sister) and I ventured to the location I’d found the first four (after miles of me looking elsewhere else) around coordinates 40.246024, -76.864287 on the right side of the Capital Area Greenbelt, just passed the Train Observation bridge and before the Dauphin County Recycling Center. We took in 8 adults (making 12 total with the ones I already have) and 6 youths (making me consider using 5 and one control). I have opted not to use the youths as they will be a little much for me to handle and also keep up with life’s other obligations. Avery wants them though and there are two I’ll keep as pets as well. It was an exciting day!!! We actually took a few more because it was hard to choose, but they went back outside. The other excitement was discovering a near newborn in the dirt we added to the bin we took them home in. Avery has named it Stowaway and will be keeping it to watch it grow into adulthood.

Tues, Aug 23rd:

By noon, all snails were in their respective bins!

I also had an interesting surprise this morning. While sitting on my “bed” (we’re still on the futon in the living room since the bedroom ceiling fell in), I saw a snail shell. I have a few lying about so no big deal. But, it was upside down, connected to a plate. This was sorta a big deal. I had a rogue snail. Of the empty shells Avery and I had collected last week, one seemed to have something in it, it was just way back, and it never opened up in the time it took to get back, water them all, and set up a habitat; so, we assumed it was dead. Nope. Wrong. There it was, having climbed from the spot under the futon we’d left it (dropped it), up a cabinet and onto a sushi plate (also in the living room because of no kitchen…). It also seems to be a very hardy snail. So, I’ll have one extra snail in the experiment. 11 test subjects, 2 controls.

This evening, I took photos, weighed, and measured a bunch before it got too dark.

Wed, Aug 24th:

Woke up at 8AM and started where I left off last night. The photographs are much better in the morning so I think I’ll be repeating the photography for the first slew tomorrow morning.

I finally found a clue about how much to feed the suckers in Heliciculture. I’ll be staying on the low end, so 10% of body weight tops (I’m assuming wet body weight). This is a tremendously small amount of food considering my smallest snail is 1.88g and the biggest is a mere 3.25g. I explored how much food this looks like and it’s not much. Less than a thumbnail worth of carrot all day for the biggest snail, Muscles. The trouble with this number is that it’s based on body weight percentage, not calories. Other sites recording how much to feed also went by weight rather than calories. As it won’t be perfect, I’ll be doing a variety of food.

Thurs, Aug 25th:

I decided to reweigh the snails and get better photos of the ones I’d done at night in the morning. Glad I did. Discovered that many of their weights had changed dramatically. I decided to reweigh my Aug 24 morning bunch that evening and I’d use the lowest of the weights for each. None of the snails lowest measured weights were over 3g.

Tasks complete.

Fri, Aug 26th:

I woke up early (early = before 8AM) and removed their food, scrubbed the rocks, and washed out all the bins, and left them with ample moisture. At 7:30AM, the door was opened so light could come in. At 8AM, they have all begun their fast and the light was on. I will turn off the light and close the door tonight at 8PM.

About ten minutes later, I decided to remove all the rocks. Although it was a nice idea, my budget did not allow for plastic “rocks” and I was neither sure I could remove all “food” from the natural rocks nor that the variety of rocks didn’t offer different nutritional content in and of themselves. Also, the snails tend to hang out inverted on the tops or sides of their bins and not on the rocks. Although I may perceive it as an immensely boring life, I have found no evidence that this will negatively affect them. They’ll likely be fine for the duration of the testing.

I created “profiles” for each of the snails with metrics, photos, and basic descriptions. How I will post these, I’m not sure yet.

Sat, Aug 27th:

Woke up early again to weigh out and separate food (part for the morning and part for the evening). Door opened quarter after 8AM. During the time before the light went on, I made their labels with names and wet weights. Light went on around 8:45AM.

Wall of snail bins

Learning runs began at 9:05AM – 130hz, left side of maze. Food: carrot (which they all seem to like)

Runs:

Trails

Appx half of exactly .29g of food reward dropped at the left end of the maze.

Summary: I learned a lot during this little escapade. I made a ton of mistakes. It took him appx 26 min to get out of the maze where his food was. He went back to the beginning four times. He did not eat the food.

Events:

Started sound and placed Trails at the beginning of the maze.

After being placed at the beginning of the maze, he went forward to where the maze forked. He seemed to look around then turned back toward the beginning. Realizing that he could escape, I quickly used the toothbrush I’d intended to clean the maze with to hold down the entrance cover. This was likely confusing.  He tried to get out but found that he could not.

Next, he turned around and went directly down the right (his left) arm. I realized that should he exit, he would just climb all over the place and possibly figure out a roundabout way to the food, so I blocked it off with the spoon that I’d distributed the food with. This may also have been confusing.

Then, before he even tried to escape around the spoon, he turned around and went back to the beginning and stuck his head and foot out again but could not get out due to the size of his shell. He turned around but did not go all the way to the fork before turning around and trying again, this time seeming to try a little harder as he reached his head and foot out further, seeming to stretch out to pull his shell through. Once again, he did not succeed in exiting through the entrance.

Lastly, he went back down the maze and took the left side (his right) directly and exited out that side. He did not go toward the food though. He just went out, climbing to the side wall, over and up, in the opposite direction of the food, completely ignoring it. I took him and placed him on the lid and put the food directly in front of him and he sniffed at it but did not eat it, just went away and continued exploring.

It does not seem like he was interested in his food reward, but he did not pause during the maze and seemed to primarily seek out freedom, judging by the number of times he attempted to leave where he entered and where he could get some of his body out. He also could have gotten some of his body out at the fork, but he didn’t try that. He only tried the right side of the entrance every time.

Notes: This makes me wonder if he was seeking out fresh air and/or the ability to continue moving? It’s hard to say. The fact that he kept trying to leave where he entered implies that either because he knew that way had been open before, he might be able to get out that way. He tried the right fork before I covered it and only went a little further but not the whole way before he turned around.

Obviously, I need to fix the maze as there are at least two flaws. 1.  I need to make the entrance such that I don’t need to manually hold it down to keep them from leaving that way. 2. I need to block off the side that has no food or freedom (depending on which they care about is interesting, but less interesting than them simply choosing a direction, whether it’s based on fresh air, freedom, or food as a reward).

So, to handle any of the three options, during the learning period, I will leave the side open where the food reward is. If they can sense the frequency coming from the speakers, they will associate whatever-it-is with that side.

Then, when the testing begins, I will have both sides closed off and offer no food or freedom until they choose a side in the maze.

I will have one more snail run the maze to see if the behavior is similar.

Yellow Belly

Summary: After 31.5min, I put an end to it. Yellow Belly did not complete the maze in that amount of time. He appeared to stop and eat/clean his shell.

Events:

I made sure Yellow Belly was awake, started the sound, them placed him at the beginning of the maze. He was a slow mover. This is not surprising as he’d just awakened where as Trails had already been moving about.

He went to the fork, began to go back to the entrance but did not go the whole way, then went back into the right side (his left) of the maze. He went to the end until his eye tentacle touched the spoon and retracted. Then he went back to the beginning and attempted to get out the bottom of the cover I realized I wasn’t holding down all the way. He could not get his shell through.

Next, he went back, circled, then went to the right again until his eye bumped the plastic then went back, then back to the plastic until his eye bumped, then went back, turned around, then seemed to turn around again then just stopped.

Minutes went by and I wondered if he’d gone to sleep, but could still just barely see his tentacles moving about. I looked in that side’s opening (I can only see where they are and few details from above because the maze is frosted). It appeared that he was either cleaning or eating off his shell. He’d been doing this for minutes it seems.

I ended the test, took him out, and put him by the carrot which he immediately pulled to him and began eating. He did not eat all of it, but just a few “bites” then went about.

Notes: Due to the fact that he seemed to be eating his own shell, I thought I should wash them better so that they wouldn’t resort to that behavior (if that is what he was doing; judging by the ferocity with which he took to that carrot, it seems likely).

Alterations to be made:

Due to these blaring issues, I must suspend the training to fix them over the weekend. They will continue to have reduced food as I’ll give them half the amount today and let them into the open air to be around each other and move about. I’ll probably take more pictures. Then, I’ll rinse their bins, then wash their shells before putting them back in their bins. Tomorrow, they’ll fast again and stay in isolation.

Monday, I’ll begin again.

 

 

Image taken outside, in natural light.

Snails and Hearing Experiment: Preparation

In an effort to find out if snails may be able to discern different frequencies and in response to people’s claims that their pet snails can recognize their individual voices, I will perform a test that involves attempting to train snails to go left or right depending on the frequency played using a food reward. This experiment will not validate whether or not snails can differentiate people’s voices as that is out of the scope of this test, but it may indicate the possibility of snails being able to hear, giving insight for further exploration into the nature of hearing, despite lacking the biological infrastructure typically associated with hearing.

Here are the plans for the setup:

Subjects:
Ideally, I will have 10 or more snails from the species Cepaea nemoralis. Aside from the four already collected, I have not had good luck finding more. One of them I may not be using as it seems far less vigorous than the others. However, if I am unable to find 10 healthy snails, I will proceed with the ones I have at the beginning of next week.

Habitat:
Each snail will be kept in isolation in a light blue, clear plastic bin with dimensions of 12.88” x 9.13” x 5.14”.

snail experiment habitat

The bins will be placed next to each other on 4 shelves. In each bin will be a comparably-sized, washed rock for hiding (it must be washed or they may eat whatever is on it). While on the shelves among the others, each snail’s habitat will be spritzed with water at some point in the morning and at night to ensure ample moisture. Watering will occur independently of food distribution. The snails will be kept in a closet to attempt to maintain approximate temperature and consistent light/dark periods of 12 hours each. Food distribution will occur twice a day, once shortly after the dark hours end and will be signaled by the opening of the door (to somewhat simulate dusk and dawn, when snails are naturally most active) and once at the end of the day, before “dark”.

Experiment Setup:
Prior to the start of the experiment, the snails will be moved to the bins and given 48hrs to adjust while weight and size measurements are taken. They will be fed ad libitum during this time. After this period, the bins will be washed and the snails will endure a 24 hour fast before the experiment begins. Once the experiment begins, the snails will be fed twice a day and fast the rest of the time. The amount of food should be sufficient for their size and will include herbs, egg shell, carrot, and other veggies to maintain a varied, calcium rich diet. Their weights and the weight of their food will be recorded using a Smart Weigh ZIP300 scale.

They will each be tested separately. During testing, each snail’s bin will be brought to a different room, the lid of bin will be opened 1/3 to 1/2 of the way. On the lid will be sitting a cell phone (type undecided) that will be used exclusively for this experiment during the experiment’s duration. The sounds will be transmitted from the phone’s speakers at the same frequencies and amplitude for each snail.

Built using plastic popsicle cups and a little hackery, a handmade Y-maze will be used. It will be enclosed to prevent the snails from climbing over it, but ventilated. Before each food distribution, the maze will be placed in the habitat, and each snail will be placed at the beginning of the maze. After each snail is tested, the maze will be cleaned so that the chance of mucus trail following is minimized. After the snail is given time to feed, their bin will also be cleaned to remove food remnants.

y-maze

Food will be distributed using a plastic serving spoon attached to an extension to prevent them from smelling the direction of my grubby mitts. They may be able to smell the plastic of the tool or feel the air movement, but the likelihood may be less as they live in plastic containers and their environment has already been disrupted.

Experiment timeline and description:
During the learning period of 4 days in an effort to allow them long term memory formation (information of definite time taken to form long term memory was difficult to find (the potential result of this is discussed in the foreseeable issues section of this post)), each snail will be taken into a different room in their bin and each will be tested separately. The maze will be inserted and snail positioned at the beginning. The lids will be left off the bins 1/3 to 1/2 of the way for food distribution and as a safe location for placing the cell phone that will produce the sound. Once the lids have been moved, the sound will be played and food will be dropped into the corner of the bin intended to be associated with it. The sound will play until the snail finds the food. Each snail will be timed. While they eat, the y-maze will be removed and they will be given time to feed while the next snail is tested.

For 130Hz, or a C note, which is in the average range of a male voice, the food will be distributed on the right side of the bin (from the experimenter’s point of view/end points of the maze). For 220Hz, or an A note, which is in the average range of a female voice, the food will be distributed on the left side of the bin. Both sounds will be calibrated at the same decibels. For each test, the frequency will be selected randomly, so they may or may not be different than the time before. [Frequency info found on Wikipedia and note equivalents found here.]

Once the experiment has begun, the conditions will be the same except that the sound will be played but no food will be distributed until the snail has chosen a direction in the y-maze, should movement or direction occur. Whether or not movement occurs and in what direction will be recorded. If movement does occur, which side of the maze they enter will be recorded and food will be distributed either way in the designated area. Any change in their direction will be recorded. The testing will go on for 3 days, providing 6 data points for each snail.

For the control snails (number to be determined), they will continue to be fed from the start of the sounds and measurements will be recorded.

Foreseeable issues with test:
When a snail is being tested, the will be separated from the rest of them; however, because there is imperfect sound-proofing, it is still possible that the other snails will be able to sense the frequency coming from the other room and this may be confusing. Also, the frequency may manifest at other times of the day unintentionally and that too could be confusing.

Because I will be setting up the snails, playing the sounds, distributing the food, and recording the times, there is plenty of room for error and unintended bias. I will try to be exact, but I don’t fully understand the scope of subconscious influence in this case, which should be considered.

The maze is hand made so is unlikely to be perfectly symmetrical or perfectly smooth which could influence decision-making for the snails.

There may be conflicting or distracting vibrations from other goings-ons in the world.

There is intelligence differentiation within a species and the snails I have may not learn quickly enough.

This particular species may lack the ability or are slower to learn in general. There have been memory tests done on other snails (such as Lymnaea stagnalis here, here, and here and Helix aspersa here and here), but none that I found on Cepaea nemoralis. Also, more evidence has been shown with remembering negative events than positive ones.

There could be coincidence afoot. Hence, there is always the need for more testing and removal of variables, confounding or otherwise!

 

Trails 1
Trails saying hello to the camera.

 

Featured photo is of Smotchkkiss exploring outside the bin!

 

Snail Habitats and Introducing the First Contributors

It has begun. My life is in wild disorder but at least I have a stable location where I can practice science. And today, I collected the first four contributors to the Finding Out if Snails Can Hear experiment.

After  getting a ton of rain a few days ago, I ended up taking a 2.5 mile walk in the morning along the Harrisburg Greenbelt. It was a joyful day. There were snails everywhere.

Not wanting to take all the snails from that ecosystem, I selected four.

Four Cepaea nemoralis (also known as wood snails or grove snails) in Anita’s hand. Note the yellowyness of those hands. Also note four little lives sliming all over each other. Every one of them tasted that hand.

If you know your snails, you will know that these snails are not the intended species, Helix aspersa. There has been a notable lack of them around. However, these lovely little guys, Cepaea nemoralis, are in the same family as Helix aspersa, plentiful, and already widely used in research so background information will be easier to come by. They’re considered an invasive species (no environmental guilt about scooping them up, I suppose) although they tend not to be too much of a pest in gardens.

In light of this information, Cepaea nemoralis are now the species I will use in this experiment. Once I collect all I intend to use, I will take individual photos of each, their measurements and general descriptions, names (yes, I’ll be naming them – it’ll be easy as their shells are so varied, so they’ll be easy to remember), and potentially other factors of relevance. All the information will be posted.

While they are waiting, I have made them a habitat in a plastic bin to help acclimate them to captivity. The habitat includes standard stuff (all collected outside): different types of dirt, rocks for hiding, live plants, and a (cleaned) bottle half full of water in case they want it for drinking, bathing, or sitting in. They are spritzed with water daily and fed a variety of produce including fruits, vegetables, egg shells (for calcium), and other acceptable foods. They will probably be eating much off of the bark and rocks as they tend to eat dead things more so than live produce, but they’ll have options. I am keeping them together as snails appear to be more social animals, forming colonies (though this is highly debated). The risk of doing so is population increase as they are all hermaphroditic and any of them can reproduce with any other. Their environment will change pretty drastically in individual containers where the experiment will take place. But for now, they’ll live together in a space that somewhat resembles their natural environment.

First snail habitat

Temporary snail habitat. The visible land snail (and most adventurous so far) is named Smotchkkiss (I stole the name from here).

 

More information on Cepaea nemoralis can be found here.

Inducing Carotenosis: Conclusions

After the madness of moving across country, having guests, and reuniting with some friends and family, I am finally able to write something of a conclusion.

At the end of our month of 8 carrots/day in addition to our normal diet, we were beginning to see yellowing on our palms, bottoms of our feet, and slightly in our faces. It was subtle and we definitely needed better equipment to display the results. Should I take on a similar experiment or attempt to do another carotenosis one, in addition to more rigor going into maintaining a normal diet and meal logging, I will utilize a better camera and color analyzing software to dissect differences. Also, regular blood testing would be helpful to show increased beta-carotene levels in our serum as well as skin. There were a billion variables at play, but better equipment would definitely have offered more to show off. Alas, this is what an impulsive and haphazard self-experiment looks like.

Since the official end, we’ve continued to consume an ample number of carrots and our yellowing has increased. We still have not seen the dramatic effects that would cause people to stop us on the street and question if we’re okay, but it’s obvious when standing next to a person eating less carotenoid intensive diets that we are rather yellowy.

“You look like you have a bit of a fake tan going on.” –Jordan Harriman, Exosphere biohacker, when asked about the yellowy-ness of my skin.

The only time in my life I would be thrilled to hear such a thing.

At this point, I’m considering this little experiment closed. As we’re continuing our quest for yellowing skin, should it become evident on my phone camera, I’ll make an afterwards post at some point.

 

Featured photo is of Drew from Day 31.

Carotenosis: Day 32

With a crazy week of having Drew’s sister in town, searching frantically for a missing cat, and packing for a move, this will be a very quick update.

We are experiencing a small amount of yellowing on our hands. That is clear now, although it doesn’t show up very well on the photos. We are extending this project through the week to see if we can get it to be a little stronger. Next week, we’ll also plow through a 25lb bag of carrots to push this project forward. We know now that what we’ve done will cause the slightest amount of yellowing visible to those up close, but not a significant amount.

Other note: I’m in love with juicing now. I’ve always loved smoothies but been suspicious of juicing because it makes a lot of waste and depletes your fiber intake. Juice, in general, is a sugary drink. The good thing about it is that you get loads of micronutrients in a small drink – like carotenoids! Alas, the lack of fiber is notable. I intend to learn some recipes for the pulp. Additionally, I will watch out for too much. But I might just keep juicing a little on a regular basis. I tried a carrot, orange, ginger combo and I’ve also made up one including 4 beets, 1 grapefruit, and 5 carrots. Delish.

Food:

We’ve been eating nice and healthy. Ice cream and cookies here and there (we have a 12 year old on vacation with us, after all! Additionally though, don’t worry too much about us being a bad influence, she’s also cooking healthful vegetarian meals with me that she likes and can make when she goes back home, continuing her journey to be a very healthy vegetarian).

Health Notes:

We’re healthy, as far as we can tell! Light yellowness is visible. I now think my new smell (which isn’t particularly bad either) has to do with the substantially reduced milk intake that continues or has something to do with all these extra carrots. Will likely test the milk idea at a later time. Everything else is normal.

Photos (as of yesterday):

Anita and Drew. It’s hard to see the light yellow on our hands.

 

Photo source here.

Inducing Carotenosis: Day 24

When I started this β-carotene activity, I really didn’t think much further than making sure there were not potential negative side-effects, not even considering really that there might be actively positive ones to a slightly excessive intake of carotenoids… like adding some sexy to my skin!

It was hypothesized that the color in skin associated with carotenoids was beneficial for sexual selection; therefore, increasing intake of fruits and vegetables would not only alter the skin’s color, but that the color increase attractiveness. They discovered that certain carotenoids do change the skin’s color, adding reds and yellows (yellow from β-carotene) and it adds to the appeal of those with slightly higher concentrations of those colors. In one of the discussions, they explained that:

“[…] skin-color changes associated with fruit and vegetable consumption is seen as healthy and attractive, and is detectable at a relatively modest level of dietary change.”

If I hadn’t been motivated by vanity before, there is nonetheless a little extra incentive. More importantly, however, there are also mega health benefits contributing to overall health (which is why it is understood to appear attractive to begin with). And the foods they come in add additional benefits as well. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is a known way to improve the chance of living a long, healthy life with good heart health, vision, skin, bones, etc.

But on to our info…

Our diet:

We have increased our fruit/veggie intake back to normal and by the end of this week will be reintroducing eggs. We’ve also increased our carrot levels (not substantially) due to carrot juice which accounts for our 8 carrots/day while being able to maintain normal carrot intake from foods as before.

Physiological Observations:

Feeling good. Nothing out of the ordinary although I still think I smell a little abnormal sometimes (wondering if has to do with the reduction in dairy as opposed to adding carrots). No apparent color changes to skin.

Our photos:

Anita & Drew. Not much yellow and pretty standard appearance, sporting the “just rolled out of bed and trying to get in some photos” look.

 

Featured photo (and a nice post about carrots and dental health) sourced here.