A pet snail is a great low maintenance house guest.
It costs very little to set up a simple snail habitat so you can observe these cute gastropods at close quarters.
Many people are surprised to discover how endearing a pet snail is!
But some regions, including the U.S. have strict regulations about keeping non-native snail species as pets.
So it’s important to be clued up before you get started!
Snails As Pets
There are several thousand species of land snail, from the common land snail to the giant African snail.
They all have a strong muscular foot, which secretes mucus to help them slide along.
Their hard, brittle shell grows with them from birth, so that for most species it’s always big enough for their whole body to retreat inside.
Snail shells can be round, flattened, or elongated. They come in a wide range of colors and patterns too.
But snails aren’t the first animal many people consider keeping as a pet.
However, they have a special kind of cult popularity among those that do!
Types of Pet Snails
Pet snails can be either land-living, or aquatic.
Quite a lot of people who keep fish also have a resident snail or two in their aquarium!
But in this article we’ll focus on keeping land snails as pets in their own right.
There are thousands of land snail species, living all over the world.
In some countries, pet stores and breeders sell large or attractive snail species to new owners.
- Giant African snails – mighty molluscs up to 12 inches long!
- Ghana Tiger snails, which have unique high-contrast stripes on their shells.
- And Decollate snails, which have unusual, long pointed shells.
Restrictions on Keeping Pet Snails
In some countries, including the UK, giant snail pets are rather popular.
Especially in schools and classrooms, where they make a fun but low maintenance talking point, and can happily spend the weekend unattended.
However in the U.S., all of the snails above are classified as an invasive species by the Department of Agriculture, and it’s illegal to sell them or keep them as pets.
Small wild populations have been reported. But wild colonies should be reported to your local department for agriculture for disposal.
Land Snails As Pets
Fortunately this doesn’t mean you can’t join in the fun of keeping land snails as pets!
There are many, many land snail species indigenous to the United States, and you’re likely to have at least one living in your own backyard!
However, we don’t recommend travelling beyond your backyard and removing snails from their natural habitat elsewhere.
Just keep a look out among your plants in spring or summer for some shelled friends to bring indoors and observe.
But if finding a pet snail is as easy as taking them from the yard, what do you need to keep them happy once they’re indoors?
We’ll cover that next.
How To Keep A Snail As A Pet
Pet snails are very easy animals to look after.
They have a few simple needs which must be met, but provided you are diligent meeting about them, snails really are quite straightforward.
Small fish tanks or rodent tanks are both suitable for keeping pet snails in.
The tank must be ventilated, so look for habitats with perforated sides or lids.
If you don’t want other creepy crawlies like fruit flies taking up residence as well though, you might want to consider taping a piece of mosquito netting over the openings.
A safe substrate
The substrate is what you line the bottom of your snail’s new home with.
Multipurpose potting compost is perfect for this.
You can also use soil from your yard, but bear in mind it will already be teeming with bug life.
Some people freeze soil from the yard for a few days, or sterilize it in a hot oven, to avoid bringing uninvited guests into their snail’s tank.
The substrate needs to be kept damp to protect your snail’s foot, so you also need to buy or repurpose a water spray bottle.
Spray the substrate with water every do or so, so that it is damp, but not so wet that water is pooling on the surface.
A land snail’s natural habitat is surrounded by vegetation.
So you need to mimic that in their tank by adding live plants.
Mosses and ferns are the most popular choice because they don’t need much natural light.
Which means you aren’t tied to keeping your pet snail habitat near a window (where it is also at risk of getting too hot, and too dry – especially if there’s a working radiator nearby).
Places to hide
Chances are you found your pet snail tucked into a crevice made by a rock or fallen tree branch.
They’ll appreciate something similar in their new home too – either a piece of upturned broken plant pot, or a tunnel formed by some tree bark.
In the wild, snails are often found in clusters called routs or walks.
We don’t know much about their social lives, but this certainly suggests they like a bit of company.
If you can find two snails together in your yard, they may be less stressed by captivity if you keep them together.
BUT – bear in mind that snails are hermaphrodites. That is, every individual has both male and female reproductive organs, and any two individuals can mate to produce baby snails.
Fertilized snail eggs take 2 weeks to hatch, so check the habitat every week for eggs, and dispose of them by freezing them then throwing them away.
What they don’t need
Pet snails from your own region do not usually need a heat source inside their tank.
However, snails do hibernate in winter – and they might still hibernate indoors if their habitat gets too cold.
If you want to prevent this, you can place a warming mat underneath their tank, but be very careful not to overheat it, or dry the substrate out.
Pet snails also do not need a water bowl.
Provided the substrate is kept damp, and they receive enough suitable food, they’ll get all the hydration they need from their diet, and the condensation on the sides of the tank.
Which leads us neatly onto diet next!
What Does A Pet Snail Eat?
A pet snail will eat all kinds of herbaceous plants, flowers, fruit and veg.
In captivity, they thrive on a diet of mostly lettuce and cucumber.
But you can offer them pretty much any raw fruit or vegetable from your kitchen.
They also like unscented flowers such as pansies, and some houseplants, including that spider plant which has been making babies all over your windowsill.
Remember to take out untouched food and replace it with fresh every day, to prevent it spoiling.
Getting Enough Calcium
Snails also need access to a ready supply of calcium, to keep their shell healthy and strong.
You can dust their fresh food with calcium powder sold for reptiles. But it’s even easier to leave a piece of washed cuttlefish in their tank.
Cuttlefish is widely sold in pet stores for birds like parakeets.
Your pet snail will sit on top of it, and use the tough rasping “teeth” under their foot to scrape up what they need.
How Long Does A Pet Snail Live?
A pet snail can live for several years in captivity.
It might be hard to imagine getting that much interest out of a snail.
But they’re enthusiastic climbers, and more active than we usually get to appreciate when we see them outdoors.
Snails are crepuscular, which means they’re most active at dawn and dusk.
These are good times to try giving them different foods to eat, or to bring in an obstacle like a brick or interesting stick to for them to explore.
Of course, another advantage of keeping land snails as pets is that any you find in your yard can be returned to your yard once you’re done observing them.
But never release a snail in a different place to where you found it – if they’re not already native to the area, they can have a damaging effect on the ecosystem.
Pet Snail Summary
A pet snail is an unusual choice, but they can be very satisfying to watch as they slowly go about their business.
They’re also an easy way for children to learn about what different kinds of animals need in captivity.
Choose a pet snail from your own yard, to avoid falling foul of legislation against transporting non-native species.
And always wash your hands after handling them, or the contents of their tank!
Do You Have A Pet Snail?
We’d love to hear about them in the comments section down below!
What’s your favorite thing about owning a pet snail?
- Regulated Organism and Soil Permits: Snails and Slugs. United States Department of Agriculture. 2020. Accessed September 2020.