The humble Roman snail has ancient connections, a sought after flavor, and is protected by law in some parts of the world… but what exactly makes it so special? And why do some people refer to it as ‘difficult’?
Why don’t we take a closer look and find out?
What Are Roman Snails?
Roman snails have the scientific name Helix pomatia, but those aren’t the only two names they’re known by. You may also know them as:
- Burgundy Snail
- Vineyard Snail
- Vine Snail
- Grapevine Snail
- Roman Escargot
- Edible Snail
This species lives on land, breathes air, and is one of the best-known snails across the globe. It’s also one of the most used gastropod species used in cooking. It is the typical, original ‘escargot’.
What Do Roman Snails Look Like?
Roman snails are often confused with common garden snails. They do indeed look quite similar, but garden snails are usually a bit darker in color. Romans are usually lighter (though not always), and the shell can feel lined or ridged.
Some specimens will have darker patterns on the shell, usually lined or banded (not to be confused with the banded grove snail). The edges are usually paler in color, almost as if the edges have been dipped in white or cream-colored paint.
How Big Do Roman Snails Get?
This large land-dwelling snail is one of the biggest found in Europe, but it’s still not quite as big as its literal giant cousin, the giant African land snail.
The shells can grow to a width of 2 inches (5 cm) and a height of 1.8 inches (4.5 cm).
How Long Do Roman Snails Live?
Roman or burgundy snails can live for a maximum of 20 years, but they’ll only reach that age when they have perfect conditions with very few predators. That is rarely the case for this poor snail, sadly.
In the wild, few of these snails live past 5 years of age, and even fewer past 10 years. Some gastropod experts have reported Roman snails could potentially live to 30 years of age and even longer.
Where Are Roman Snails Found?
These days, Roman snails can be found all over the world, because of the food industry, pet industry, and because of accidental release.
You’ll find it across most of Europe, in ‘hotspots’ rather than all over. In the UK, for example, it is only really found in the southern part. Some populations have been reported in Russia, albeit small. It is also in the United States, because of the food industry. Few snails are allowed to be imported into the country, but this one is, in limited quantities.
What Do Roman Snails Eat?
This snail is a grazing snail, which means it slithers along and eats the things it finds as it goes. This will include leaf and other plant material, tree sap, fruits, and other things you might find on a forest floor.
They eat mostly at night, after sunset and before midnight.
Are Roman Snails Edible?
Yes, they are edible. In fact, they are one of the most consumed species of snail across the world and classed as ‘highly prized’.
Can You Keep a Roman Snail as a Pet?
These snails are notoriously difficult to get going, so to speak, with many farms and conservation efforts failing. It’s also classed as quite a rare breed (in some parts), and getting it imported might land you in a little legal hot water.
There are plenty of snail species you could keep as a pet, but this one isn’t one of them.
Roman Snail Breeding
It is notoriously difficult to breed Roman snails, and there are very few commercial Roman snail farms around the world. When conditions aren’t right, the juvenile snails will actually cannibalize each other, so even when you have successfully encouraged your snails to produce eggs, there’s no guarantee they’ll hatch, or survive for long if they do hatch.
Roman snails are hermaphrodites, which means they can produce both eggs and sperm. You don’t need a specific male and a specific female; you just need two snails.
Breeding times will change depending on where the snail is, but Central European specimens tend to get started at the end of April and heading into May. They don’t just jump straight into things, either: there’s a courtship, too. The mating ritual or dance, using ‘love darts’ is common across all snail species.
Roman Snail Eggs
If the burgundy snails successfully mate, up to 30 eggs are laid a month or so later, in around June or July. It doesn’t take them long to hatch, only around 3 or 4 weeks, and they can go on to reproduce a couple of years later. Some will start at 2 years of age while others will take up to 3 years longer.
Are Roman Snails Legal in the U.S.?
If you’re planning in important these snails to the U.S. for the purpose of eating them, no, it’s not legal.
In some states, you might be able to import, buy, or otherwise acquire the snail with a license or permit. Potentially farming setups may also be given permits under special circumstances.
Are Roman Snails Protected?
In some parts of the world, yes, Roman snails are a protected species, which means that there are very strict laws surrounding them.
As well as featuring on the IUCN ‘Red List’ (International Union for Conservation of Nature), it is also protected in Germany, England, and Denmark. There have been efforts to boost natural, wild populations of this snail, but they’ve not been as successful as hoped.
Are Roman Snails Rare?
Roman snails aren’t exactly rare in the places they are found, but populations are dwindling. They are also difficult to breed, which means that collection of wild specimens must be limited.
Did Romans Eat Roman Snails?
Yes, it is believed that Ancient Romans did eat Roman snails – and that’s how they got the name. It is believed that the snails were introduced to the UK by the Roman people, for food. In the U.S. they are known more commonly as burgundy snail, but in the UK, Roman snails is the norm. The Ancient Greeks were also believed to eat Roman snails.