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Illustration by the author.

Which is faster: a snail, a glacier or a piece of government legislation passing through Congress?

A Snail’s Pace

Anyone who has seen a snail slime across the driveway knows that snails do not really sprint. Nevertheless, for amusement, there have been snail races conducted here and there throughout history. The world’s fastest snail has been enshrined in the Guinness Book of World Records. At the 1995 World Snail Racing Championship, in Congham, England, a garden snail named Archie tackled the 13-inch circular course in a mere two minutes twenty seconds. Imagine how fast he could have gone had he not had to brake for the turns!

By comparison, you’ll be impressed to discover that even the slowest snails move faster than glaciers. Archie reached a maximum velocity of 0.092 inches/second which means that he could speed across a ten foot wide driveway in 1304.34 seconds or just under 22 minutes. If you think 22 minutes is like a long time to travel ten feet, consider how fast (or slow) glaciers tend to move in the same time period.

Glaciers are essentially enormous rivers of ice. Alpine glaciers are found in mountainous terrain where great quantities of snow fall. The snow gets packed down and when it reaches a mass of fifty feet or more in thickness, the weight of the ice causes the mass to slowly slide down the ravine, lubricated by its own meltwater. Friction between ice and rock, and geothermal heat from the earth itself, all contribute to the thawing that allows it to flow.

The speed at which these glaciers move varies, but according to online sources the Byrd Glacier in Antarctica moves from 750 to 800 meters per year, or approximately six feet per day. Six feet a day amounts to three inches an hour. In other words, Archie the snail is to glacier speed as Dale Earnhardt Jr. is to a child’s pedal car.

As for the typical speed of a bill through Congress? Don’t even ask.

Originally published at

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An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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