Garden Snail: The Pest that Makes a Great Pet

Garden Snail Infographic

These land snails are the typical snail you draw as a kid, and the most common type of snail you’ll probably encounter in your life. Although ‘just a snail’ for some people, these gastropods are actually quite incredible in their own way. So much so, in fact, that some people even eat them!

What Are Garden Snails?

The term ‘garden snail’ is a bit of a catch-all term for snails commonly found in gardens. This can mean different species or subspecies in different parts of the world, which can make life a little complicated.

The most common type of garden snail is known as the European garden snail, but it also goes by a whole bunch of other names, including:

  • Common garden snail
  • Brown garden snail
  • Brown grape snail
  • Small gray snail
  • Gray garden snail
  • Helix aspersa (since reclassified)

What Do Garden Snails Look Like?

This gastropod mollusk is the stereotypical snail that we all draw as kids: a slug with a round shell on its back. It lives on land and has coloring that is reminiscent of that: browns, greens, blacks, grays, and muddy mixes of them all.

garden snail

The body, also known as a ‘foot’, is usually khaki green/brown.

A garden snail’s shell is pale, usually dirty cream, golden-toned nudes, or light brown, with spirals of color. That’s where the darker browns, green, and black tones come in. They can also be bright shades of yellow, too.

How Big Do Garden Snails Get?

Some of these snails can look quite large in the garden, but they can’t grow to anywhere near the size of a giant African land snail.

Garden snail shells tend to grow to about 0.8 to 1.5 inches wide, and they’re about as tall as they are wide.

If you were to place these gastropods on the scales, they’d only reach a maximum weight of around 15 to 17 grams, which is about half an ounce.

How Long Do Garden Snails Live For?

Most snails tend to do better in captivity than they do in the wild, but only when the conditions are absolutely perfect. There are fewer predators in captivity, if there are even any at all.

In the wild, most garden snails tend to live for around two to three years.

In captivity, a garden snail can live for five years and even longer.

What Does a Garden Snail Eat?

This gastropod is a generalist herbivore, which means it eats a wide variety of plant matter.

If you have plants growing in your garden, particularly flowers, herbs, vegetables, etc., you’ll probably have a good of what these slimy critters like to eat…. Everything you don’t want them to!

garden snail eating a strawberry

As well as many ‘wild’ plants and leaves, such as petunias, magnolia trees, lilies, and others, the humble snail also enjoys many human foods, such as carrots, lettuces, cucumbers, cabbages, onions, and various fruits.

Can You Keep a Garden Snail as a Pet?

You could keep these snails as pets. Many people around the world do. You’ll just need to ensure that the gastropod has the perfect habitat for it to flourish, which isn’t all that difficult to do.

Garden snails are also good for neurodivergent children due to their nature and their low (zero) cost.

Here are the most important things you’ll need to know:

One or more?

Garden snails are quite social. You may find it beneficial to have two or more in a tank or terrarium. You will need to keep an eye on the population, of course. Without intervention, two garden snails can soon become tens of garden snails!

Habitat Size

These snails fare much better with a larger habitat over a small one. Although they don’t move fast, they do like to move considerable distances during their mostly active night hours. The more space they have, to move around and explore, the happier they’ll be. Ideally, you’ll be looking at a 5 to 10-gallon tank or larger, especially if you have more than one.

Substrate

Garden snails aren’t primary burrowers, which means that it isn’t their number one activity like other snails. Instead, this gastropod is considered to be a secondary burrower. They do burrow sometimes. Because of this, you should ensure the substrate base is deep enough to allow them to burrow down.

Most snail enthusiasts would recommend at least two or three times the height of the snail.

As for substrate materials, soil is always the best choice, preferably calcareous or limestone varieties. Avoid mixes with clay or sand.

You will want to test the pH level of the soil, as too much in either acid/alkaline direction can prove fatal for your gastropod pet. The pH level should be as close to 7 as you can get.

Supplements

Without the addition of something calcium-rich in the tank or terrarium, your garden snails will quickly develop brittle shells that break. When the shells become too damaged, the snail will die.

To counteract this, you must ensure that cuttlefish, oyster shells, or egg shells are readily available for them. You could also look at calcium-rich foods, such as spinach, kale, and broccoli.

Water

Your garden snails will also require a regular source of water to ensure they don’t dry out, and the tank or terrarium should never be placed in direct sunlight to prevent overheating.

This snail species also likes high humidity, so a gauge in the enclosure is preferably. You will want to aim for daytime humidity levels of between 70 and 90%. Misting or spraying water into the enclosure can help to increase humidity where necessary.

A snail in the garden

Where Do Garden Snails Come From?

These gastropods are Mediterranean, but it didn’t take them long to pretty much conquer the world. Almost. They haven’t reached Antarctica yet, but that’s the only continent they haven’t managed to invade… slowly.

You’ll still find these snails in the Mediterranean, and also:

  • Europe (western)
  • Turkey
  • Middle East
  • Egypt
  • North Africa
  • Iberian Peninsula
  • Australia
  • South Africa
  • Chile
  • Mexico
  • Argentina
  • Haiti
  • New Zealand
  • Canada
  • United States
  • Atlantic Ocean islands (some)

See: garden snails have pretty much conquered the world! (They were introduced into some places, admittedly.)

How Do Garden Snails Breed?

The garden snail breeding process is actually what has made it super easy for these gastropods to spread so easily, along with their adaptability. They have both male and female reproductive organs, and they can also do both jobs solo.

The snails will lay eggs in small pits dug into the substrate, usually up to three inches in depth. If you want to encourage garden snail breeding, make sure that you have a thick enough layer of substrate to allow for it; otherwise, your snails will not reproduce.

This species is reproductively active at around six months of age, but some can take a bit longer to mature, taking up to ten months.

Do Garden Snails Hibernate?

Yes, some garden snails hibernate. Not all of them do, though.

They tend to hibernate when things get tough, such as when the weather is very hot or very cold, or when food is minimal. Believe it not, this shelled critter can survive freezing temperatures, but only for short periods of time.

5 Garden Snail Facts

Before I end this article today, I’d just like to bring your attention to a few more very interesting facts about this snail.

1: Despite seeing them throughout the day, garden snails are mostly nocturnal.

2: Garden snails will be unhappy with the same food every day. They need a variety of foods, changed regularly.

3: If these snails don’t get enough light, they will refuse to lay eggs.

4: Garden snail mating can take up to eight hours!

5: Once sperm has been transferred from one snail to another, the receiving individual can store the package for up to four years before then using it to fertilize eggs.

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