Candy Cane Snail: Not as Festive as They Sound

Three Candy Cane Snails on black table

I know you’re probably thinking one of two things right now: 1) I’ve lost my mind, talking about candy cane snails; or 2) I’m talking about a Christmas decoration. I can assure that neither of those things are true. The candy cane snail is real.

I’ll prove it to you.

What Are Candy Cane Snails?

No one would argue with you if you thought these snails were painted shells for decoration, but they are one hundred percent real. Candy cane snails are as wonderfully decorated as they sound, but interestingly enough, they are rarely red and white.

The scientific name for this snail is: Liguus virgineus.

It is also sometimes referred to as ‘virgin Liguus’.

This snail is a land snail that breathes air and lives in trees, and it can only be found in the wild on one particular island in the Caribbean.

What Do Candy Cane Snails Look Like?

The shells of this snail might not be red and white like you’d expect, but they are striped in a candy cane way, which is likely what attributed to the nickname.

The main color of the shell is light — white, off-white, cream, ivory.

The stripes or bands can be a range of colors and shades, including:

  • Yellow
  • Purple
  • Black
  • Green
  • Pink
  • Brown
  • Orange
  • All of the above at once (multiple stripes of color, or ombre from top to bottom)

Rather than being round in shape, like a garden snail, candy canes are more elongated and cone-like. It almost looks too decorative to be a real snail shell. It does come to a point, but it’s a dull point and not a sharp spire.

As the snail ages, more candy cane stripes are added to the shell, which can help scientists and experts date/age the specimen.

A red candy cane

How Big Are Candy Cane Snails?

As well as being brightly colored this species of snail is quite large. The shell can reach lengths of 2.4 inches (6 cm) but can also be as small as 1.2 inch (3 cm).

There can be as many as eight swirls or whorls, but there are usually fewer candy cane-like stripes: up to six.

How Long Do Candy Snails Live?

It’s not known how long these snails can live for, because they’re so hard to find, especially now they are endangered. Some experts believe they can live for three to five years, but others would argue both higher and lower than that.

Where Do Candy Cane Snails Come From?

As previously mentioned, this land-dwelling gastropod only lives on one island in the Caribbean Sea, that makes up part of the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean. That island is known as Hispaniola, second greatest in size in the West Indies area. (Behind Cuba.)

Hispaniola is where you can find both the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Candy Cane Snail Habitat

This species is an arboreal one, which means that it spends almost all of its life in trees. Snails will descend to ground level to lay eggs, but as soon as those eggs hatch into juveniles they’ll start heading higher.

Hispaniola has a semi or subtropical climate with high levels of humidity, but the different sides of the island (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) do have slightly different temperature and humidity ranges. This is due to coastal landscapes and position of mountainous regions on the island.

What Does the Candy Cane Snail Eat?

Living in the trees gives this gastropod every chance to find its food source, which just so happens to be lichen. This is essentially microscopic organisms that grow on trees, plants, etc., such as algae.

Candy canes will also eat fungi and moss.

Younger individuals tend to start with the lichen on the leaves first, before then moving on to twigs, then branches, then the actual trunk of the tree. You could say, they learn to walk before they can run… or, you know, eat before they can slither.

Candy Cane Snail Breeding

Gastropod experts know that candy cane snails lay eggs, and that they leave the safety of trees for down on the ground to do the job. Moist soil is what they’re looking for when they make their descent.

Aside from those details, very little else is known. Being native to just one place in the world, and with populations dwindling, they’re tough to find let alone study.

Are Virgin Liguus Rare?

Yes, this snail is now considered to be rare.

When you look at the snail you can quickly understand why this species has been hunted to a point where its population is in serious decline. The colorful, eye-catching, and too-beautiful-to-be-real shells lure in local traders and tourists alike, leading to over-hunting. That combined with deforestation, chemical insecticides, and other factors, means that this species – and many others – are struggling to survive.

Are Candy Cane Snails Invasive?

At present, candy canes are not considered to be invasive, because they haven’t established homes in non-native places. However, there have been multiple reports and sightings of this species in the Florida Keys area. Being as unique as it is, it is unlikely that it would be confused with many other snail species.

Florida’s climate and conditions wouldn’t be too different from that of Caribbean islands, so it wouldn’t be too difficult for candy cane snails to adapt to living there.

Can You Buy Candy Cane Snails Online?

No, you can’t buy this species of gastropod online.

If you do find a listing for this species, it is likely fake. If the snail is real, it will likely be a scam and you won’t ever receive it/them. Alternatively, the snail will be illegally exported, probably in an inhumane way, and you could face questions when the package is intercepted by the authorities.

Candy Cane Snail Facts:

1: The shell of Liguus virgineus is believed to be the very first from the Caribbean to make it all the way to Europe, by way of early European explorers.

2: It is also believed to be responsible for the very first scientific illustration of a ‘neotropical land snail’.

3: Scientists and gastropod experts aren’t really sure why candy cane snails are colored the way they are, or which factors (diet, location, etc.) are behind the different colorways.

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