This snail is every bit as Cuban as it sounds, originating from the northeastern coastal regions of Cuba. So colorful and beautiful that they’ve been hunted to the point of almost-extinction, this isn’t a species you’re likely to encounter in the exotic pet trade… and shouldn’t.
If brightly colored gastropods are your thing, you definitely need to know about Polymita picta, also known as the Cuban painted snail, painted Cuban snail, painted snail, Polymita snail, and oriente tree snail.
What Do Cuban Painted Snails Look Like?
Just as with grove snails, Cuban painted snails now have so many different colors, patterns, and polymorphs that they can’t all be separately named. There are a few classified subspecies, however.
Polymita is a Latin word for ‘many stripes’, which gives you some idea of what the species looks like.
The ‘original’ Cuban painted snail was thought to be bright yellow with a band or stripe of a much lighter shade, usually close to white. It also fairly common to see the following colorways:
- White with a muddy-yellow band
- Pale yellow with a pink band
- Red with a dark brown/black band
- Light brown with a dark brown band
- Orange with a bright yellow band
- Light-to-dark (ombre) yellow and orange with a black or white band
There are up to four spirals or whorls on the shell, and it can also have quite a pointed and high tip, also known as the spire.
Some experts believe the vast array of designs is caused by the type of diet they have access to, but others believe it is an evolutionary defense process, designed to confused potential predators.
How Big Do Cuban Painted Snails Grow?
Oriente tree or Cuban painted snails are small terrestrial gastropods, that reach a maximum length of around 0.79-inch (2 cm). For some comparison, this is around the same size as baby giant African land snails.
Where Does the Cuban Painted Snail Live?
This gastropod is native to northeastern and eastern coastal-to-mountainous regions of Cuba. The preferred habitat is in subtropical forests. It is not found anywhere else in the world.
Many different snail species (approximately 1,400!) can call Cuba its home, but this species is the most colorful there, and one of the most colorful around the world.
Another colorful snail species is the water-dwelling nerite snail.
What Do Painted Cuban Snails Eat?
Being subtropical forest-dwelling creatures, the snail eats plant life found in that kind of habitat. This includes:
- Lichen (an organism between algae and fungus)
- Organic material (biofilm) found on leaves, plants, tree bark, and other forest greenery
- Flower buds and petals
Their eating habits and behaviors are actually beneficial to most trees, because it essentially cleans them and getting rid of any unwanted organisms.
How Long Do Cuban Painted Snails Live?
Experts believe the species lives for between 15 and 24 months, which isn’t very long when compared to other species, which seem to fall between three and eight years depending on habitat and other variables.
Cuban Painted Snails Breeding
This snail, like many other land snails, is classed as a hermaphrodite. It can be both male and female. It cannot self-fertilize, however, so it will require a mate.
The breeding process itself is a three-step affair, and the snails use a ‘love dart’, which a few gastropod species have. Both snails throw the dart at each other (so to speak) as a mutual agreement, as such.
Not all love dart-armed snails shoot out the dart every single time, though. Some snails need to mate first before the love dart can develop or trigger. The dart needs time to ‘reload’, too. Because of this, snails can mate in quick succession without a dart. It is quite a complex breeding process compared to other snails, and even other animals. (Not the strangest, though!)
Just when you think you’ve heard everything strange there is to know about the animal kingdom, up pops the gastropod with a literal Cupid’s love arrow. It’s almost too crazy to believe, isn’t it?
Can You Have Painted Cuban Snails as Pets?
No, it is not recommended to have them as pets.
These eye-catching snails are endangered, which means their populations are struggling in the wild and are close to extinction. Ideally, any and all painted Cubans are left where they belong: in the wild of eastern Cuba.
Because of their rare status, they are quite difficult to buy. It is illegal for the species to be exported out of Cuba.
It is not ethical to have these gastropods as pets. To get your hands on them, they must go through an illegal trading route. This usually means cruelly, on some level, to the animals being transported.
Is the Cuban Painted Snail Rare?
Yes, this is one of a few rare and endangered snail species around the world.
The brightly colored and beautiful-looking shell is what has caused this gastropod to be hunted to the point of almost-extinction, along with deforestation (similar to the case of the candy cane snail). Used in jewelry and household ornaments, local traders caught so many of them – for the shells alone – that the population soon started to dwindle.
The species has now received endangered classification, which means that there are incredibly strict rules surrounding them. This, when the rules are stuck to, means the population can start to regrow and the species can save itself.
Cuban Painted Snail Facts
1: This snail won a literal beauty contest in 2022. It was internationally voted the winner of the Mollusk of the Year 2022 award, up against four other mollusks, three of which were other snails.
2: Painted snails are thought to last longer than most other snails when it comes to drying out. They use a mucus door, as such, to close up the open part of the shell, which locks all moisture in.
3: As much as 97% of Polymita snail natural habitats in Cuba have been destroyed or degraded. The reduction in habitat has led to a serious decline in Polymita snail populations, which has also affected some bird populations that would eat them. Some of these birds are also either endangered or critically endangered, so the knock-on effects carry far and wide.