Caring for Snails
Snails make great pets and caring for them is seldom a difficult task. With a little effort to get their housing, general conditions and diet right, snails can live upwards of ten years – although five to eight is more common – and breed readily in captivity.
HousingDespite their ponderous image, snails are surprisingly active creatures and need a container that gives them enough space to move around in, if they are to be at their best. As a result it’s obviously vital to take into account the full adult size when picking a tank – or be prepared to buy a larger container as they grow.
If you’re intending to keep British snails, a tank offering a square foot (900 square cm) of floor-space will be fine for two or three large adults. However, should your tastes lie with the many varieties of giant African land snails, your tank is going to have to be significantly more spacious.
While the Roman Snail is Britain’s biggest species, boasting a shell up to 2 inches (5cm) across, the world’s largest – the Ghana Giant or Tiger Snail – has one which is 10 inches (25cm) long. A pair of these truly giant snails will need a very sizeable container indeed by comparison!
However, caring for your snails housing needs is not all about how much space you give them. There is also some evidence to suggest that snails have a much higher degree of spatial awareness than was once supposed, and they appear to benefit from having places in their tank to explore, rather than a stark and empty container. A range of different textures and surfaces will provide them with some stimulus – large pieces of cork bark or old broken flower pots also giving them somewhere to hide.
Keeping Your Snails HealthyCaring for your pets’ health is helped enormously by getting their basic living conditions right. They need to be damp – and will appreciate a misting to keep things suitably moist – but not so wet that their tank turns into a sour, mould-ridden swamp. In addition, tropical species need to be kept warm – a temperature around 21–26C (70–78F) being ideal for most of the species commonly sold.
The choice of flooring material is important, since it needs to be capable of maintaining the necessary levels of moisture, without going sour and be sufficiently cheap and readily available that it can be regularly changed to keep your tank hygienic. Many keepers opt for potting compost or sterilised garden soil – but not soils that are high in sand or gravel, both of which snails seem to dislike. A small amount of sphagnum moss mixed in with the soil helps to increase its water-holding.
Giant African land snails in particular will benefit from a generous layer of material on the floor of their tanks, perhaps as much as 6 or 8 inches (15-20cm) deep as they are burrowers in the wild. This habit could be a potential risk if you are supplying the necessary additional warmth via a heat pad under the tank, since they will be bringing themselves closer to it, as they burrow. However, making sure that the pad doesn’t cover the full floor area should stop this becoming a problem.
A deep floor covering will also help when the snails get around to breeding giving them an ideal spot to lay their eggs – and if you keep a pair together, you may safely assume that little snails will be on the cards.
Proper FeedingAs with all pets, good feeding in one of the most important factors in caring for your snails’ welfare. Field research has shown that in the wild, a large number of many species of giant land snail – particularly the Ghana Giant – die after egg-laying, largely due to being malnourished, something seldom if ever encountered with well fed snails in captivity.
When it comes to planning your pets’ diet, variety is definitely the spice of life and most snails will consume vegetables, fruits, dandelions and the like. Many are also partial to rabbit or hamster foods – though these are often best soaked in some hot water for a little while and allowed to cool before being offered; likewise the harder kinds of root vegetables, such as turnip or carrot, can be parboiled to be given when cold. Whatever you give your animals, make sure it’s washed first to remove all traces of pesticides or other potentially harmful chemicals.
A good calcium source is also essential for proper growth – especially with the giant species – so add a cuttlefish bone; the snails will have a great time rasping away at it with their file-like tongues.
Caring for snails is not difficult and if you meet their straightforward and undemanding needs, these fascinating animals will reward your efforts with the perfect chance to get an insight into their unique way of life – and start your own captive breeding programme too.