Plants & Pets
A snail is a small creature with simple needs. A great alternative to fish, snails are quiet, small, and very low maintenance. But as with any pet, a few things should be considered before committing to care for one. You can keep pet snails in a small container, providing you care for them properly and make sure they receive enough air, water, calcium and food. Snails have grown in popularity as pets.
How to ‘House’ them?
Prepare the Snail House
1. Wash and dry the container. Make sure the container lid has vent holes large enough to allow air inside, but small enough to prevent the snails from escaping. If you don’t have a lid, fold cheesecloth or gauze into a double layer then cut a suitable shape to cover the top of your container. Set aside your lid or cover for now.
2. Add a shallow layer of gravel to the bottom of the tank for drainage. Top the gravel with an inch and a half of soil or soil topped with another substrate such as spaghum moss, coir or peat.
3. Add a shelter for your new pets. A small plastic pot, placed on its side and half buried in the soil, works well. You could also make a miniature lean-to by leaning a piece of bark against the container wall. Snails love this kind of hideout.
4. If you like, tuck little plants, like creeping thyme and moss, into the soil. Add bits of bark and small dried leaves. Water the plants and soil until the soil is moist but not soaking wet. Essentially, you now have a small terrarium that is almost ready for its new inhabitants.
Move Your Snails into Their New Home
Gently pick up each snail by its shell and place it in the terrarium. A large mason jar can hold two snails; a small tank, like the one shown here, which is about six inches long by four inches deep and five inches high, is big enough for up to four snails.
Add a Food Supply
Add some food for the snails. Offer as much variety as you can. They enjoy many fruits including apple, blackberries, kiwi, peach, pear, plum, raspberries and strawberries. Also offer vegetables like cucumber, tomato, a baby carrot cut in half lengthwise, lettuce, cabbage, kale, or dandelion leaves. Small pieces of wet or dry cat or dog food, or tortoise food, can also make good snail food. Snails need a source of calcium and minerals to build their shells, so place a piece of egg shell or natural chalk in the tank as well. Cuttlefish from the pet store can also be offered. Remember to replace the lid on your snail house after adding food. If you’re using cheesecloth or gauze, tie it down or fasten it with a rubber band. You don’t want snails escaping into your house and hurting themselves or frightening other people.
Housekeeping for Your Snails
Change the food every day, removing uneaten leaves and replacing with fresh foodstuff. Every few days, wipe down the glass walls of the terrarium with a sponge or paper towels. If the soil is drying out fill a clean spray bottle with water and mist the inside of the tank (and the snails) with water until the soil is moist but not overly wet. Once a week, remove everything from the tank, wash and rinse it, then build a new layer of substrate. Rather than planting new plants, try laying a bed of dandelion leaves across the top of the soil. The wilted dandelion leaves serve as a playground and as a plate for more food. In a day or two, when it’s time for cleanup, just remove the dandelions and any food left lying on top of them. Remember to wash your hands after handling your pet snails or after cleaning their terrarium.
Some points to ponder before you start
1. Snails and Your Schedule
Snails are thought to be nocturnal or crepuscular creatures (although a sleep study in pond snails showed that the time of day does not matter), so they may be most active when most people are going to bed, waking up, or already sleeping. If you plan to watch your snail's activities during the day and handle it while it is awake, then you better be a night owl. Be prepared to wait until later in the day to feed your snail and enjoy its slow-paced life.
2. Children and Snails
Some children may love having a unique pet like a snail, while others would prefer a more traditional pet like a dog. Snails move much differently than other animals so they can be very interesting to watch and even gently handle. Snails do not have to have human interaction to thrive, so if you have a child that is interested in nature, a snail could be an easy pet. On the other hand, if you have a child that would prefer a pet to cuddle, a snail may not be the best option.
3. Handling Snails
Snails are safe to handle, but there are a few things you should do to make sure you don't cause them any harm: Before picking up your snail, wash your hands with soap and water. This will help to remove any potentially harmful lotions, oils, and natural elements that a snail may absorb off of your skin. Then, with slightly wet hands, a snail can be scooped up underneath its foot to break the suction. Never pick up a snail by its shell, as this can damage the muscle that attaches the body to the shell. If this muscle, called the mantle, is damaged, death can result.
4. Zoonotic Concerns with Snails
Snails can harbor parasites that can potentially infect people1, especially if the snail is wild-caught. Because of this, you should not only wash your hands before handling a snail to keep them safe, but also after to keep yourself safe. You should never kiss your snail or allow children to put them in their mouth.
5. Space for a Snail
Snails do not take up much space. Each snail should have at least a one-gallon tank to roam in. But even if you splurge for a five- or 10-gallon tank, this still only takes up a couple of feet of desk space. Snails need things inside their tank to chew on and burrow in, but they do not require play space outside their enclosure.
6. Budgeting for a Snail
Once the initial investment of a small tank is made, ongoing expenses will include fresh vegetables and fruits, calcium, and substrate. Cuttlebones that are typically used for pet birds, spaghnum moss, and small amounts of produce will need to be replenished regularly but are not expensive. Overall, snails are very affordable pets.
7. Time Requirements to Care for a Snail
Snails will need fresh produce daily and an occasional change of their substrate. Aside from that, snails can be left to their own devices. They do not require attention or handling so there is no need to make sure they receive a certain amount of exercise each day. The largest amount of time will be dedicated to purchasing and washing your snail's fresh fruits and vegetables.
8. Snail Life Span
Snail life spans can vary, but in captivity it is possible for your snail to live to be a teenager. Two to five years is typical for most wild snails but some larger species could possibly live up to fifteen years. Keep in mind though, if you find a garden snail and decide to care for it as a pet, there is no way to know how old it is.
9. Legal Concerns with Snails
Some species of snails, such as the giant African land snail, are actually illegal to own due to concerns with invasiveness and being pests to crops. Check with your state laws before purchasing a pet snail or simply opt to care for one you find outside. -TTN