Giant African land snails, also known as Lissachatina fulica, are giant in snail terms. And, like something out of a horror movie, these creatures are slowly (or not so) taking over the world. A much-loved pet or a huge, international pest – there are arguments for both sides.
But for now, if you’re considering adopting these slithering and rather unusual house pets, here’s everything you need to know. When you know everything, you can make up your own mind.
Giant African land snails are exactly what they sound like: giant snails that live on land. When you put a full-grown adult giant next to a garden snail (for example) you can understand why they have been given the name.
There are other snails that go by a similar name – ‘Giant African snails’ (without the land). These are:
Giant West African Snail – also known as banana wasp snail or Arachtina marginata.
Giant African Snail – also known as giant tiger land snail, gigantocochlea, or Achatina achatina.
You’ve probably all read and heard the stories of huge, car-sized snails that threaten to slime all over everything, but I’m about to burst your bubble, I’m afraid. I had the same hope when I owned two of these beasts, but they really only grow to around the size of your hand… depending on how big or small your hand is.
The largest snail ever recorded was 15.5 inches (39.3 cm) from the top of its head to the tail-end of the body. The shell alone measured 10.75 inches (27.3 cm).
Ghee, the name of the snail in question, lived in East Sussex, in the UK. The Sierra Leone-born snail tipped the scales at 2 pounds (900g). The record was set in 1978 and hasn’t been beaten yet.
Few giants make it quite that big, of course. Most adults reach around 7 or 8 inches in length (17.5 cm to 20.5 cm).
This snail looks like a giant version of a ‘regular’ snail (the kind that kids might draw), with a pointed shell. Common garden snails have rounder shells, without a sharp or defined point or tip.
They can come in a range of colors but are mostly various shades of brown, with stripes or bands of either a lighter or darker color. Rich brown with dirty-cream bands is common.
The shell is large and conical, and is much longer than it is wide, usually by around twice as much. These gastropods can be both left-handed and right-handed (sinistral/counterclockwise, or dextral/clockwise).
Distribution and Natural Habitat
As the name suggests, they originally come from Africa. East Africa, to be exact. That’s definitely not where they stayed, though. Far from it.
The pet industry, accidents, illegal smuggling, and the culinary industry have encouraged the introduction of these gastropods in non-native places. From eastern parts of Africa, this snail has managed to find its way, somehow, to China, West Indies, various parts of Southeast Asia, Taiwan, India, across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the U.S., and even further.
Once these giants have made it to a new place, it doesn’t take them long to set up residence and start reproducing… and these critters can reproduce FAST!
Yes – very much so!
This species have been listed as one of the top 100 most invasive animals in the whole world, competing with the German yellow jacket (also known as European wasp), black rat, and the common malaria mosquito.
Invasive animals are ‘bad’ for a wide range of reasons, including decimating native insect populations due to competition for resources, spreading disease, destroying plants in gardens and on farms, reproducing very quickly to amplify everything, and quickly becoming an infestation…
And that’s not, by any means, all the bad things that can happen from the introduction of non-native animals.
Yes! In some states in the U.S., it is illegal to own, buy, transport, import, export, or in any other way have one of these giant snails. This is because of how invasive they are and how much they do, but also to reduce the spread of disease.
In other states, it is legal to own them if you have permit, which must be applied for. The rules will differ from state to state, so always make sure you do due diligence and research the laws on exotic pets where you live BEFORE you make a bad decision.
If you live in the U.K., you can have giant African land snails as pets (I had two before I rehomed them with my best friend because I had to move out of the country). It is not legal to release them into the wild, though.
So, they get out and manage to escape into the wild, you could be held liable for it.
Do They Make Good Pets?
Despite what you may think, these pets are actually somewhat high maintenance. Owning them is a much more laborious task than owning other types of snails, or many other types of pet. Aside from potentially being illegal to own them, you might not actually want to.
1: They Eat All the Time
They eat all the time. Constantly. They’re huge, so they’ll eat a lot more than your average snail.
2: They Dry Out Quickly
Secondly, you are going to need to ensure that they don’t dry out, which can often mean daily or more regular spraying or misting with water.
3: They’re Pretty Messy
Bigger snails also create bigger, slimier, and more difficult to remove trails — and they’re usually all over the glass. After a while, this will get so bad that you’ll need to clear it all away to be able to see through the glass, and this can often be quite the challenge.
Any chemicals you decide to use will need to be properly and thoroughly washed off, to avoid causing injury or disease to your gastropod pets.
4: They’re Not Touchable
You can’t just handle them with your bare hands. Those animals can carry and transmit disease-causing pathogens, including some that can cause meningitis. If you’re going to handle them, you’ll need to wear gloves.
5: They Need High Temperatures
Compared to other snails, they require a slightly higher temperature to be healthy and happy. They are incredibly adaptable critters that can easily and quickly adapt to new climates and habitats, but you should still aim for a high 60 to 70F (XXC).
6: They Need Chemical-Free Substrate
Any chemicals in the substrate, such as fertilizers, soils, composts, dead leaves, moss, and other greenery, will quickly make your pets unwell. You must ensure the substrate is thick enough for a little burrowing.
7: Diet is Very Important
As previously mentioned, your giant African land snails will probably eat a lot more than you’d think. You must ensure that fresh food is provided constantly, such as fruit and vegetables.
Whatever they don’t eat should be taken away before it turns bad, because they definitely won’t eat it after that. This usually means after approx. 24 hours.
A wide range of foods are necessary. You can’t feed your gastropods the same things every day. Never, ever feed your snail processed foods, salty foods (or foods containing salt), or onions.
You can feed them the following:
- Potatoes (including the peelings)
- Soaked salt-free dog kibble or biscuits
- Dandelion leaves
- Fish food flakes
- And many, many more
You must always ensure they have fresh water available, and a regular, constant source of calcium. This can come in the form of calcium sprays or drops, or cuttlefish. You could also feed them ground shells of oysters and eggs alongside cuttlefish.
Are Giant African Land Snails Edible?
Yes, these giant snails are edible.
Snail dishes featuring this species is more common in Western Africa than it is in any other countries, but it is also eaten in other places around the world these days. Common in soups, they’re also served as a meat on their own, fried with spices, herbs, onions, garlic, and other ingredients.
There are some risks associated with eating this species, mostly because of the potential for contamination of disease-causing pathogens.
Are Giant African Land Snails Dangerous?
Most snails aren’t dangerous, but this one can be… and it’s not for quite the reason you probably thought.
Giant African land snails aren’t venomous like sea-dwelling cone snails. They do have the ability to carry and transmit a range of disease and parasites, however. These can be transferred to other household pets, such as cats and dogs, and humans.
This giant is also dangerous to local ecosystem, competing with native snails and other critters for food, shelter, and other resources. And let’s be honest, what regular-sized snail can really compete with a giant one?
You will usually need two for them to breed, but they are hermaphrodites. If you start out with two females, one will essentially switch to male to produce sperm.
Out of the two, the bigger one is usually the ‘female’, who will go on to lay eggs.
Although it is not common for them to self-fertilize (reproduce alone, without a mate), there have been cases of it happening.
These gastropods can be reproductively active from six months of age and upwards, and copulation can take – quite literally – hours. Up to 24 hours, to be exact, although it’s usually over and done with by the 6-to-8-hour point.
Females lay many eggs, repeatedly, usually with the laying process separated out so that clutches are laid weeks or months apart. There can be as many as 1,000 eggs and as few as 30. If you don’t want baby giant African land snails, you must deal with them immediately. It is thought that as many as 80-90% of them can survive in suitable tank conditions.
You essentially have two options when it comes to eggs:
1) Terminate them.
2) Rear them, then rehome them.
Unless you can find homes for potentially up to 900 snail babies, number one is your best option.
The best and most humane way to terminate the eggs is to freeze them. You could also boil them, but that’s a rather hands-on way of dealing with things. The freezer is kinder to humans, and also kinder to the eggs.
With perfect conditions, a giant African land snail can live for up to ten years. Some gastropod experts believe they may even be able to live for almost double that, but cases are incredibly rare.
In the wild these snails do not fare well, usually dying before they reach around 5 years of age.