An edible land snail with a consumable name, the air-breathing milk snail looks harmless but could very well be a serious pest where you live. This adaptable species of gastropod is the second most eaten one around the world, but how easy it is to take care of?
Let’s find out.
Milk Snail aka Otala Lactea: The (Other) Bad Boy of the Snail World
The scientific name for this snail is Otala spp. but is also known by Spanish snail and milky snail. It belongs to the family helicidae, and it’s a land species with both large and small types.
There are a couple of different milk snails – Otala lactea and Otala punctata. They look similar but have small differences that set them apart. The former is usually referred to as milk snail, with the latter adopting the name Spanish snail.
Are Milk Snails Edible?
Yes, these snails are edible. In fact, Otala lactea is one of the most eaten snail species around the world. There is even evidence to support the idea that Ancient Romans exploited the gastropod for food and other purposes (such as using the shell), dating back to the second century and even older than that.
How Big Do Milk Snails Get?
Milk snail shells measure around 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter but can reach up to 1.5 inches (3.6 cm).
The Otala punctata shell tends to be a little larger than Otala lactea.
Where Are Milk Snails Found?
Otala lactea comes from Spain and Northern African, with Otala punctata (often called Spanish [milk] snails) originating in Southern France and Spain. They are native to Malta, the Canary Islands, Algeria, Morocco, and other land parts of the Mediterranean Basin.
Otala lactea can now be found in many states in the USA, as well as parts of Australia, Madeira, the Azores, Cuba, and Bermuda.
In some areas of the US, this air-breathing gastropod is quite the invasive, non-native pest. It might be unlawful or ill-advised to own, transport, or breed the snails.
What Do Milk Snails Eat?
How Long Do Milk Snails Live?
Buying or acquiring these snails is a time commitment. This is an animal that can live for 12 years or more. The upper age for Otala lactea is 20 years.
Can you commit that time to your gastropod family?
How Long Do Milk Snails Live in Captivity?
If conditions are right, milk snails in captivity can have a longer life expectancy than ‘wild’ ones. There are fewer predators to worry about, plus food sources are taken care of (by humans).
If conditions aren’t right, however, Otala lactea will become unwell and die. Alternatively, its body will go into a state of estivation, which is like the snail version of summer hibernation. Everything slows down, including feeding.
Are Air-Breathing Milk Snails Good Pets?
Yes, milk snails do make relatively good snail pets.
Because of their prehistoric adaptability, which is almost a snail superpower, they quickly get used to new feeding sources, habitat and land types, and more. Their large shells are found on mountain peaks and inland cliffs just as much as they are shrublands, gardens, around water bodies, and other areas of vegetation.
You will need to watch out for not-moving Otala lactea. They can go into a hibernation-like state, during the hotter summer months, using a trait known as estivation. This helps them survive a lack of food, severe droughts, etc.
Is Otala lactea Illegal in the US?
Otala lactea is not illegal, but it might be the case that there are restrictions in certain states.
You have responsibility, as the owner of the snails, to keep them properly contained. If they escape, they overrun native species of land snail and other species of non-shell animals, competing for food sources, land, and other resources.
It is recommended to check local media and restrictions in your state before making purchasing decisions.
Dean is a veterinarian specialized in molluscs , with over 12 years of experience working with a variety of species. He is Escargot World “secret agent” in the UK, creating content about the life of snails and snail farming in the UK.