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Slime coating counts in love darts.

Snails may strive for fatherhood by throwing darts at their mates.

Some snails shoot little calcareous sticks coated with mucus into a partner's skin while mating. These love darts may be more than a gesture of affection, suggest Joris M. Koene and Ronald Chase of McGill University in Montreal. The slime carries biologically active substances that could boost the sperm's chance of fertilizing eggs, they report in the July 14 Journal Of Experimental Biology.

The researchers took extracts of the glands that make the mucus in Helix aspersa and applied them to the female genitalia of the hermaphroditic snails. The gland preparation triggered a temporary reconfiguration of the copulatory canal that made the sperm's travels easier and closed off a tract leading to a sperm-destroying organ. The extract also made the reproductive path contract faster, speeding the sperm's trip. Effects last at least an hour, Koene and Chase report.

The species they studied mates several times before laying eggs. The researchers speculate that mucus injections help the snails compete to become a dad.
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Title Annotation:snail mating customs
Author:Milius, Susan
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Aug 8, 1998
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