Snails as Pets

Roman snails and a banded garden snail in a terrarium. [RN]

Snails make fine pets – they are easy to keep and need not be taken for a walk. Besides they are also very interesting to observe, which is why a terrarium with snails can also be very enriching to a school classroom.

For some weeks we have had several Roman snails (Helix pomatia) and banded garden snails (Cepaea hortensis), which are kept in a glass terrarium. So far we have been able to observe several matings, also numerous batches of eggs have been deposited. From one batch the young have already hatched, so we have also been able to follow their development.

For those juveniles, we have arranged a special little terrarium in a plastic box, so no little snails get lost in the large terrarium (the juveniles' shells so far are only millimetres in diameter).

As an instruction for all those interested people, that would also like to keep snails, we would like to describe our terrarium for adult snails, as well as the baby box for the juveniles. Of course our terrarium is not the only good way to do it, but one of them.

Adult Snails' Terrarium

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The adult snail terrarium. [RN]

The displayed glass terrarium available from the pet shop, is 40 cm (16 in.) wide, 25 cm (10 in.) high and 30 cm (12 in.) across. The front window can be opened as an upwards sliding door. The roof window is interrupted by a perforated strip of metal.

As can be seen in the picture, we have covered the terrarium's floor with a layer of earth about 4 cm (1,6 in.) thick, so especially the Roman snails have sufficient depth to dig in, which they love to do, to hide themselves as well, as to burrow their eggs.

We categorically advise against using garden earth in terrariums. In general, garden earth is full of chemicals possibly harmful to snails. Neither should earth be used from nature, because there could be nematodes or other parasites in it that could infect the snails. In our case we used a special terrarium earth bought in a pet shop.

On the earth there is another layer of fresh green leaves of different composition to offer the snails food, as well as shelter. We have used different leaves from nature, but the best experience was to be gathered with dandelion leaves that snails also love to eat.

Egg shells are given to the snails as lime source. [RN]

Additionally the snails are provided with a lime source. It was not until then, that the snails began to mate and to lay eggs, because lime is also used for the production of egg shells. The snails also ate the skin inside the egg shells; some also sat in the eggs and dissolved lime from the shell, which could be seen afterwards as green traces.

In the picture's background a large piece of bark can be seen, that is used by the snails as a hiding place (another possibility could be half a flowerpot or a comparable pot). The snails love to use this shelter, also hiding there aestivating when the terrarium was dry.

Note: If you provide snails in your garden with a hiding place, you can easier pick them, as they will be gathered there!

The snails are fed with cucumber and apple slices. They also love eating dandelion leaves, as mentioned. Also carrot halves are eaten.

After a period of some days (at least once a week) the terrarium must be cleaned of mucus and faeces, also at this opportunity, left over food should be removed, because else it could decay and be harmful to the snails. That is also why a layer of loose dandelion leaves is better than planting living dandelion plants, because the loose leaves are easier to remove and besides the snails would eat the dandelion plants to the trunk.

Sleepy Snails

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What help is there if the snails are always sleepy? [RN]

What is to do if the snails always are sleepy and sit on the walls all day?

The reason might be insufficient oxygen supply. Our terrarium does have the perforated metal strip that is supposed to allow oxygen to enter the terrarium. Besides, there is a several millimetre gap between the sliding door and the remainder of the terrarium. Anyway, our snails were only active for some hours after the terrarium had been cleaned, which is when they crawled around and ate.

The solution of the problem was found out by my girl friend: Snails, as well as us, exhale carbon dioxide, which is heavier than air. So the snails put themselves to sleep after some time, because the carbon dioxide they exhaled accumulated near the ground.

A small gap releases carbon dioxide from the terrarium. [RN]

The solution to this problem was easy and ingenious alike: Two coffee spoons stuck under the sliding front window. By this gap few millimetres wide, the carbon dioxide could escape, but not the snails.

Since then the snails have been very active. Basically each time we look at the terrarium, there are some snails actively crawling around (the Cornelia effect, so to speak). The snails eat more and so they grow bigger and mate more often…

A box for raising young snails.

If you prefer to keep Giant African Land Snails, such as Achatina fulica, then please visit!

To be continued…