Snails can make great pets. They don't need to be walked, they don't shed or smell, they make no noise, they don't require a lot of space, and it's rather relaxing to watch them glide serenely along their terrarium.
Most often, the brown garden snails (Cornu aspersum) is the variety kept as a pet. While very common—and destructive—in the garden, this species of terrestrial mollusk is actually European in origin, and is considered an invasive species in many areas of the world, including North America. You'll find C. aspersum on the menu in many French restaurants as escargot, but don't eat a snail found wild in your garden; the snail could have eaten a poisoned bait or be infected with parasites.
Like any pet, your snail needs an appropriate diet, home—no, that shell on its back isn't the only house it needs—and care schedule. Before grabbing the nearest snail out of your garden, here are some things you should consider before bringing one home as a pet.
1. Snails and Your Schedule
Snails are nocturnal or crepuscular creatures (meaning most active at dusk and dawn), so they may be most active when you 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. You can encourage your snail to be more active by keeping the room lights dim and gently misting its habitat, however.
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 guinea pig. Snails move very differently than other animals, so they can be interesting to watch as they glide along on their muscular foot, leaving behind a shimmering trail of slime. Many children enjoy watching a snail effortlessly slide up the walls of its terrarium, or even glide upside-down along the lid. Plus, there's a certain fascination and even cuteness to observing a snail's bobbing eye stalks.
Snails don't 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. It's best to limit snail-keeping to children old enough to understand that snails are delicate and cannot be dropped or treated roughly.
3. Handling Snails
Snails are generally 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.
- Be sure that your snail isn't placed on a surface where it may fall; this can injure or kill the creature.
- Never forcefully pick up a snail that is clinging tightly to its terrarium. This can cause the snail serious injury.
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 people, 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 afterwards to protect yourself. You should never kiss your snail or allow children to put them in their mouth. Be sure that your children understand that they need to wash their hands thoroughly after touching their pet snail.
5. Space for a Snail
Snails do not take up much space. A small plastic or glass terrarium makes an ideal home. The tank should have a tight-fitting lid so the snail cannot escape, but be sure that the cover is mesh or a similar material that allows plenty of fresh air to reach the snails inside.
You can use clean potting soil as a substrate for your snails. A bit of sphagnum moss on top gives your snails somewhere to hide during the day. Mist your snails with clean water daily to keep them moist, but don't let the tank get soggy or waterlogged.
You can add some decorations to the tank if you'd like; fish tank decor works well for this purpose. It's not necessary to decorate a snail tank, but can be more fun for your children, and even for you. Watching a snail glide into a little "Sponge Bob" house or a pirate ship can be lots of fun.
6. Feeding Your Snail
Snails are herbivores, meaning they eat plant materials. You can feed your pet fresh dandelion greens, lettuce and other leafy greens, bits of cucumber or broccoli, and carrots. They also enjoy small pieces of strawberries, apples, and other fruits.
Your snail also needs a source of calcium to keep its shell healthy. You can provide this by placing a small cuttlebone into the terrarium—these are sold in the bird section of pet stores—or by sprinkling finely ground eggshells onto its food.
Feed your snail once a day. Remember that it won't need a large amount of food, and you don't want to leave food spoiling in the terrarium, so only provide a small amount of food at a time and remove any uneaten food the next day.
Your snail will get enough water from its food and from your daily misting with water, so you do not need to put a water dish into the tank.
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. But you will probably enjoy spending at least a few minutes each day observing your pets.
8. Snail Life Span
Snail life spans can vary, but in captivity it is possible for your snail to live to be a teenager, although most brown garden snails live for just a few 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 in the United States due to concerns with invasiveness and crop damage. Check with your state laws before purchasing a pet snail, or simply opt to care for a brown garden snail you find outside.
Cornu Aspersum (Common Garden Snail). University of Florida.
Lu XT, Gu QY, Limpanont Y, et al. Snail-borne parasitic diseases: an update on global epidemiological distribution, transmission interruption and control methods. Infect Dis Poverty. 2018;7(1):28. Published 2018 Apr 9. doi:10.1186/s40249-018-0414-7