There is more than one type of snail in the world, but the garden snail is the species that has quickly grown in popularity as a pet. Historically, Giant African land snails were also a popular option for snail-lovers but due to the threat they cause to crops as an invasive species, they are illegal in the United States.
Garden snails, however, are much smaller than their giant cousins, so the damage they can cause is not a concern. These small snails have found their way into the hearts and homes of pet owners across the country and make unique pets for those that are looking for something a little different.
Common Name(s) Garden Snail, Land Snail, European Brown Snail
Scientific Name Cornu aspersum (previously Helix aspersa)
Adult Size Shell size of 1–1 5⁄8 inches in diameter and 1–1 3⁄8 inches high
Lifespan Most snails live 2-3 years is expected but longer lifespans have been reported as pets
Snail Behavior and Temperament
Snails are quiet, slow, and curious creatures. They move by sliding around on their single foot, which is covered in mucus and epithelial cilia. As the foot muscles contract, the snail crawls forward. They don't jump, but they can climb up the side of an aquarium or plant to get where they want to go. Snails are docile and don't bite, so they make a very easy pet.
Overall, caring for snails is simple, but they don't make cuddly pets. Handling a snail should be done with care as you can cause permanent—even lethal—damage to them if you pick them up the wrong way. A snail won't make a sound, scratch, or bite if you are hurting them, but it's easy to unintentionally harm them when picking them up. To prevent this unintentional harm, snails should never be picked up by their shell. You should instead let a snail crawl onto your hand on their own or gently use a tongue depressor or popsicle stick to put under their body.
Alternatively, some people will poke at a snail until it retreats into its shell so it is no longer stuck to something and can then be picked up by the shell. Because a snail's shell is attached to its body inside, picking it up by its shell if its foot is stuck to something could damage the shell and the mantle. The mantle is the connection between your snail's body and its shell- this can collapse and kill your snail if damaged.
Most garden or land snails don't grow over 2 inches in shell size, but there are thousands of different types of snails, some of which can grow much larger. The Giant African Land snail, Lissachatina fulica and formerly Achatina fulica is the largest variety of snail at about 6 inches in length, but these snails are illegal to own as pets. The smallest land snails, Angustopila psammion, are as tiny as the tip of a ballpoint pen.
The best way to house a pet snail is in a glass, plastic aquarium, or terrarium. This will give your snail a safe place to crawl around as well as more surface area for it to climb. Aquariums and terrariums are easy to wipe down and wash when necessary, keep the bedding contained, and help hold in moisture. Measure your humidity with a hydrogmeter to know what humidity your enclosure is at and if it needs to be changed per each species humidity requirements. A small, shallow dish of water should be placed in the enclosure to provide humidity, and allow your snail to bathe if desired. If humidity Finally, provide a small house for shelter, so your snail can retreat to somewhere private when it sleeps.
Specific Substrate Needs
Snails do well on a couple of inches of natural substrates, such as compost, coconut fiber, potting soil, and other dirt-like bedding. Be careful to select a bedding that is free of fertilizers and if it notes a pH on the package, choose one that has a pH of 7 or higher. Certain substrates, such as sphagum moss, help retain humidity in the enclosure and are a great addition on top of bedding. Finally, freezing your soil prior to putting it in your snail's enclosure will help kill off any tiny pests that may be living in it.
What Do Snails Eat & Drink?
Garden snails are herbivores, so they strictly eat plants. Various fruits and vegetables can be given to your snails in addition to a cuttlebone to provide it with calcium for its shell. Other sources of calcium for your pet snail can include finely ground egg shells or oyster shells sprinkled on vegetables. Provide lettuce, bananas, strawberries, apples, cucumbers, broccolis, carrots, and other easily accessible produce on rotation to your snail, but be sure they are all pesticide-free. Snails also require that a small portion of their diet contain a protein source; some pre-made products are available for sale online. Other protein options include bloodworms, dried mealworms, or fish flakes. Do your research on the species you own to know how often and how much protein to feed your snail.
Common Health Problems
While snails don't frequent the veterinarian, they are still susceptible to health problems. A collapsed mantle from inappropriate handling is a serious problem that often occurs in snails. Additionally, a calcium deficiency can cause the shell to soften and not grow properly. Other health problems you may see are oral prolapse from eating something irritating, deep retraction (you can no longer see your snail's foot), and broken shells.
Snails are very inexpensive to care for. Occasional substrate changes and fresh food are the only ongoing costs involved with having a snail. Once you get its aquarium set-up, keeping your snail clean and fed is all that is required. Some owners recruit the help of tiny crawling insects, such as isopods or woodlice, to help keep the snail's environment clean by eating the debris produced by the snail and its diet.
Pros & Cons of Keeping a Snail as a Pet
Depending on what kind of pet you're looking for, a snail may or may not fit the bill. Snails are very quiet, don't take up much space, do not require much of a time commitment, and are inexpensive. However, snails are also not cuddly, can't be trained, and usually only live a couple of years.
Purchasing or Finding Your Snail
Many people that decide to have a pet snail find their new pet outside in the garden or under a log (check your state laws to determine if the species of snail is legal to take from the wild), but there are also other places to purchase a snail. Several online sites and breeders sell different kinds of pet snails including Cornu aspersum (previously Helix aspersa). These snails cost around $10 or more plus shipping. Some pet stores may sell land snails, but most large chain stores only sell aquatic snails, so your best bet is often finding one outside.
Does a snail make a good pet for kids?
Snails are easy for kids to care for but are not great pets for handling. If your child is interested in pet fish, hermit crabs, and other small pets that aren't cuddly, a snail may be a good alternative.
Do snails like to be held?
Snails don't mind sliding around on your hand, but it is unlikely that they will crawl toward your hand to be held. Snails are simple creatures and focus finding food more than seeking attention from a person.
Does a snail recognize its owners?
It is unlikely that a snail will recognize its owners like some other pets would. This isn't to say it's impossible, but snails have bad eyesight.
Do snails poop? How often?
Snails will defecate as often as they eat, if not more. Stool passes through their digestive tracts quickly, and many snail owners joke that their snails do nothing but poop.