The first migrants to Ireland some 8,000 years ago may have been Southern Europeans with a taste for escargot, according to new research published in PLoS One. It turns out that a lowly garden snail (Cepaea nemoralis) found in Ireland is genetically different from British ones—but incredibly similar to one species found in Southern France and Northern Spain today. But scientists don't believe snails made the long crawl from the Pyrenees some 8,000 years ago. Instead, "what we're actually seeing might be the long lasting legacy of snails that hitched a ride, accidentally or perhaps as food, as humans traveled from the South of France to Ireland," the study's co-author said. The Christian Science Monitor spells it out for us: "This latest research joins a growing body of evidence that the first people of Ireland arrived from Iberia."
To get to their conclusion, researchers started with a snail hunt, spending two years amassing samples from across Europe with the help of volunteers. They then looked at the mitochondrial DNA via muscle samples taken from 880 of the creatures' feet, the Christian Science Monitor reports. It adds that the snail is among a number of Irish species (it names the strawberry tree and the Kerry slug) that are specific to it and Iberia, and the BBC speaks with a population geneticist who says hints of this similarity have been found in humans from the respective regions: "The genetic patterns are there, but are much weaker. You see it in blood groups, in Y chromosomes and some diseases." (Read more snail stories.)