Imagine the Great Plains in miniature: a piece of land the size of a dinner plate with thousands of grazing animals, most no larger than a candy sprinkle. Each animal has its own portable house. When it comes out to eat, it crawls on only a single foot. These remarkable animals are land snails.

Land snails are mollusks, the second largest phylum of animal life on earth. They belong to a group known as gastropods. Gastropods have colonized almost the entire planet, living in places from deep oceans to shallow coastal waters, freshwater lakes, rivers, and springs. On land, they range from arctic tundra to tropical rainforests and from deserts to swamps.

North America is home to more than 1,200 species of land snails. Minnesota harbors about 90 species. They live on prairies, in forests, and near swamps and rocky bluffs and boulders.

Land snails are so poorly known that until 30 years ago only one Minnesota species had a common English name—the cherrystone. While common names have since been proposed for all, they had to be invented from scratch and are usually not very useful. So, like the names we use for dinosaurs, we'll stick with Latin scientific names for land snails in this story.

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