Thanks to all the attention the deviant snail received, the search for a mate ended in the discovery of six more lefty snails. Dr. Davison is now leaning toward a genetic cause for the snail’s sinistral (lefty) disposition, because some found close to one another could be siblings, but confirmation lies in future generations of Jeremy’s offspring.
That may take some time.
His left-coiled shell wasn’t the only thing making it hard to find him a mate. His organs, including his genitals, also turned counterclockwise. Mating with righty snails was impossible. Last November, two potential partners (Lefty of Ipswich, England and Tomeu of Majorca, Spain) were brought to Nottingham. But they appeared to prefer each other over him, producing more than 300 babies.
Just days before Jeremy’s death, however, Tomeu produced more than four dozen babies, some of which Jeremy likely fathered. He didn’t get a chance to see the hatchlings, but “on a scientific note, he wouldn’t have recognized” them, Dr. Davison said.
All of the babies were born with a right-handed shell. This means the gene causing a snail’s directional twist (and body asymmetry in other animals), described last year in Current Biology, could take more than a generation for its recessive form to appear.
Once it does, Dr. Davison hopes genetic studies will reveal why the snails are so rare — and what sort of genetic switches may drive their bodies to turn one way instead of the other. The knowledge he gains studying the slimy shell-dwellers will also provide insight about body asymmetries that develop in other animals, including humans. About one in 10,000 people (like Catherine O’Hara, Enrique Iglesias and Donny Osmond) have situs inversus, a rare disease, that flips their internal organ arrangement like an image in a mirror.
Jeremy had been sluggish since February, and had hibernated in the fridge, on and off since. He was fine last Friday, Oct. 6, the day the hatchlings were born; by the time Dr. Davison returned to check on him Wednesday, he was dead. He had likely been decomposing for a couple days.
“I should have put Jeremy in the freezer to preserve his DNA on Friday, but I thought so many people will be sad if Jeremy is no longer,” Dr. Davison said. “I didn’t do that, and it was a mistake.” His DNA degraded from the state it was in on Friday, so genetic analyses will be tougher.
Jeremy most likely died of old age. His shell, now preserved in the University of Nottingham, will serve to teach others.