The truth is, for garden snails, love hurts. Perhaps because it was my anniversary week, the idea of love darts seemed highly romantic. How wrong I was.

Love darts are calcium projectiles that some land snails use to stab each other to increase their chance of reproductive success. Garden snails, such as the grove snails that have been sliding around on the plants in my yard and garden, employ them to get ahead in the hook-up economy. Though there is no gastropod version of Tinder, these animals mate with multiple partners in the course of their reproductive season and can hold sperm, allowing their eventual offspring to have mixed paternity. As hermaphrodites, the garden snails contain both male and female reproductive parts. However, they cannot self-fertilize, and so need mates to produce offspring. Love darts are a self-serving way to increase one snail’s chance that its sperm will beat out other lovers’ sperm.

These bodily weapons, which are different for each snail species (thus preventing interbreeding), are injected directly during the snail’s mating rituals and will pierce each other’s skin. If successful, the darts deliver compounds that allow their sperm the best chance of reaching the eggs and beating out the last or next guy’s (or last guy’s) deposit.

It isn’t just sex that make grove snails interesting. They are also masters of color morphing. The shades of their spiral shells are very variable. You can find ones with and without color bands, and those with color bands exhibit a diverse array of widths, colors, and intensity. Shells’ color and style result from physical conditions of habitat and light, since blending in can mean life or death for these delectable detritivores. They are meaty meals for birds and rodents especially.

And their shells’ colors and patterns rarely remain static. Famously known among evolutionary biologists as great organisms to study genetic change, they rival Mendel’s peas and Darwin’s finches in study value due to their rapid speed of evolutionary transformation. They are, in fact, one of the fastest evolvers in the wild, with an ability to change genetically within a few decades. Thus, you won’t hear the phrase snail’s pace uttered by those in the know.

Grove snails are native to Europe and came to this continent in the nineteenth century and have now become ubiquitous in this country. The local cousin, the white lipped snail, can be distinguished by the white edge of the shell at the snail’s aperture. Grove snails maintain a brown edge. Each also have their own unique and different love darts (if you want to get that personal).

While often maligned by gardeners, these snails, in fact, do less damage than believed. Call them mother nature’s vacuum: garden snails slide across leaves eating algae, fungus, aphids, thrips, and other dead or senescing vegetation. It is the shell-less slugs, not snails, that should be held accountable for the garden gastropod damage.

I would be remiss not to add the edibility of garden snails. While I haven’t yet partaken, they are regarded as wild food and doesn’t a little garlic and butter solve all problems anyway? In the end, maybe those garden snails should be less afraid of a mate with a love dart and more concerned with a human with an affection for escargot since while love may hurt, consumption is forever.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.