Hung Like A Gastropod

According to Martin, who is based out of the Australian Museum in Sydney, cameras aren’t able to capture the anatomical detail he finds in his microscope.

Interview By Briony Wright
Illustrations By Martin Puschel

This is the land snail’s private area. The creatures possess both male and female sex organs, which are planted pretty much right on their faces. For Martin, this is the starting point—the majority of his work focuses on the goop inside the penis.

Martin Püschel is a German illustrator living in Australia whose cardinal contribution to fine art is a portfolio of intricately detailed snail wieners and vaginas. According to Martin, who is based out of the Australian Museum in Sydney, cameras aren’t able to capture the anatomical detail he finds in his microscope. So in the name of science he spends eight hours a day, five days a week, inking his masterworks, showing a level of enthusiasm usually reserved for the fondling of human reproductive organs.

The reason for all this obsessing, Martin says, is that detailing and identifying the intricacies of snail sex parts is the only way for the science guys to determine the differences between species. To learn more, we tracked him down in his lab at the museum, where he was quietly and patiently going about his curious business.

Say you sliced some guy’s dick in half lengthwise. That’s this, but on a snail. Those pustule things inside the penis chamber on the far right are what identify this species as Torresitrachia crawfordi. The pustules (in other species referred to as riblets or pilasters) are thought to function as a key-lock system, helping to prevent crossbreeding—like a conscience might in humans.
Vice: Hey Martin, how did you land a gig drawing the infinitesimal genitals of mollusks?
Martin Püschel:
I’m part of a team dedicated to tracking all the different types of snails in Australia.

Wait, there are enough unidentified types of snails in Australia to require a full-time team?
Over the last little while we’ve found 120 brand-new species in Western Australia alone, and there are bound to be more out there. It’s up to the scientists to describe what we find, and a large part of this process involves my diagrams.

Do you ever illustrate the entire snail, or is it all about their sex bits?
Usually I only draw the reproductive organs—the vagina, the uterus, and other stuff. Sometimes I draw the kidneys and the heart. Snails don’t have brains, but they do have hearts.

I’ve always thought of snails as little more than the putrid trails of goo they leave in their wake.
Snails are useful because they eat the leaves that fall off the trees and their shit is a good fertilizer. They are the facility managers of Mother Nature. Doing what I do, you really come to realize just how extraordinary nature is.

But how extraordinary can snails really be?
Well, probably the most interesting feature is that their reproductive organs are right next to their heads. Most snails have both male and female organs, and when they meet each other they decide who will be the man and who will be the woman in that instance. It’s all quite complex.

One last question that’s been bothering me for a while: What are the implications of accidentally stepping on a snail in the garden? Can the shell grow back?
No. If you crush the shell it’s all over.

Snails get boners, which retreat back into the body when not in use. To the left is a drawing of the inner workings of the species Amplirhagada montalivetensis’s erection, as identified by the thick swellings (pilasters) inside the penis chamber. The snail’s basket, if you’re wondering, is embedded in the digestive system.   The riblets above, from the species Xanthomelon prudhoensis, are believed to have a stimulating effect during snail sex. Most land snails perform a ritual courtship before mating, lasting anywhere between two and 12 hours. The resulting eggs will produce as many as 100 adorable baby snails!