Giant African Land Snails Complete Care Guide
Welcome. This hub is designed for the absolute beginner looking to keep the unusual and very exotic Giant African Land Snail as a pet. Please feel free to start a discussion or ask any questions in the comments below and I will get back to you as soon as possible.
Basic Snail Facts to Consider before Commitment:
- They can live up to 10 years in captivity, most commonly 5-7 years.
- Some species can grow 10 inches in length!
- They are hermaphrodites meaning they are both male and female and can produce eggs on their own (this is uncommon)
- Snails can hibernate if they feel it's too cold or too hot.
- They are deaf and have poor eyesight.
Who Are Snails For?
GALS are perfect for just about anyone. They make a brilliant first pet for children (with a responsible adult to supervise at all times), they are excellent for those who lead busy lives and absolutely perfect for someone who wants a pet but has little or no experience with them, plus they are very exotic!
As you can expect, they do not bite or scratch and are non-aggressive animals. However, their shells can be delicate so please be careful when handling and never pick them up from the shell as you could accidentally pull them out of the shell or damage their brains.
Choosing the Right Snail
There are several species of Giant African Land Snails, some of which can grow up to 10 inches, others only grown to 3 or so.
Achatina Fulica are the most commonly available type of snail and come in many different colours and patterns. These snails grow usually between 3-7inches in length with an average shell size of 4inches long. In some rarer cases they can grow up to 10 inches.
Achatina achatina which commonly grow to be 10 inches long or sometimes even more! these are less common.
Once you have selected the species of the snail it is mostly a case of choosing one you like the look of, whether it's a more traditional snail or an albino, one that's patterned or one that's plain.
When choosing a snail you should get one from a breeder, always look for feedback, reviews or certification. If you can view pictures of the snails then this is even better. GALS are not commonly sold in pet stores and are most commonly sold online as live food or from specialist snail stores and transported safely overnight. Wherever you purchase your snails from, research them thoroughly and look for indications they are a good place to buy from. If you choose to purchase from an online store/breeder, please make sure the snail is going to be packaged properly in an appropriate environment with food, vents, and substrates and will arrive the very next day. If you can go to the home or business place of a breeder, then please do. You want a healthy happy snail to arrive safely if you don't have an established breeder near you.
Always contact the breeder and ask for photographs, information, how they are packaged, when they will arrive and the species. It is important to do your research on your choice first and make sure you are buying a land snail and not a pond or aquatic snail. You can purchase young adults, adults or hatchling (baby) snails. Buying them very young is a good idea if you are a teen or adult keeping them as you can watch them grow up, but for a child it would be better to buy an adult. Most snails are nearly fully grown by 1 year of age, many are large enough by 6 months.
You can ask the seller what you may need for your snail, often breeders will carry substrates, foods or even suitable homes. Many online stores will sell starter packs perfect for your snails which are usually in the region of £30 without the snail.
Snails themselves vary in price and can cost anywhere from £2-30 depending on species, quantity, age and size.
Housing your First Snail
Housing a GALS is an easy task and relatively inexpensive. Please do some research on the precise species you have chosen as some grow much larger than others and require a much larger enclosure. Large snails should have a tank of at least 2 feet in length.
A plastic or glass aquarium with a ventilated, secured lid is the perfect habitat. Try to choose one where the lid has clips as snails can lift up to 50 times their own body weight and are good climbers. Always make sure your snail has plenty of space in their enclosure as although they move slowly, they do enjoy space and some toys. For a single small-medium snail a good enclosure would be 12 inches long by 10 inches wide and 12 inches high at least. The more snails you have, the more space you should have. Never fill your tank with water as your snails will drown!
A faunarium/terrarium or vivarium of an adequate size is also another great option for snails as long as it is secure and has plenty of air holes. You can even convert a clear plastic storage container into a home creating small holes for vents on the top, this may not be a good idea if your snail is still a baby to prevent escapes.
If you plan to heat the enclosure a glass tank would be the better option.
Sometimes the tanks may require heating, especially during colder months or in colder countries. The majority of snails do fine in room temperatures of 21-25 degrees celsius, some require 26-27 degrees. All require good humidity. They are generally quite hardy snails but do not like cold or excessively hot temperatures and whilst they enjoy light, they do not like sunlight due to dehydration and burns.
If you find the room isn't warm enough you can buy a heating pad, these are best used with glass tanks to prevent melting or other issues. If you are using a heater then please purchase a thermometer to keep track of how warm it is. Temperatures that are too high may cause the substrate to become dry or the snail to hibernate, the same as if the temperatures are too cold.
Substrate and tank Lining
Snails require a damp, humid climate and therefore require a substrate to line the bottom of their habitat with. They enjoy digging and often burrow into the ground to sleep or produce eggs.
- Plain potting soil that does not contain pesticides, salts, fertiliser, plant foods, peat or other forms of treatment is a good base. You can purchase it bagged from garden centres but ALWAYS read the fine print to be absolutely sure it won't hurt your snails. The downside is it can be messy and in some cases harbour bugs. You can bake it and allow it to cool to kill bacteria and bugs before moistening it and applying it to the cage as an extra precaution. If you're unsure, don't purchase it or ask for assistance. Some pet stores sell specific soil for reptiles and snails that you can be sure is safe.
- Coconut Coir which is coconut fibre is also a good option as it holds moisture and is often a favourite among snail keepers, however, it can hold moulds. This is bought from pet shops or online and sold specially for snails and other critters.
- Spaghnum moss is also a good option and is even better when applied to a tank that has soil in it already. It can be bought online or in some pet stores as a live plant. It's good for holding moisture and snails enjoy it. You can reuse it if it's still in good condition by washing it gently with warm water.
The terrain should be kept moist at all times. You should spray or moisten the sides of the tank with water every single day to help wake your snail up and keep them happy and healthy. A dry terrain may cause a snail to withdraw or even hibernate. Snails can dehydrate if their terrain is too dry. Don't soak the terrain into puddles or a swamp, your snails won't like this or could drown!
Warning! Gravel, grit or sand is not appropriate for snails. It can dry out easily, clog them up, dehydrate them or be very uncomfortable and your snail will refuse to come out.
Yes, your snails can definitely have decorations in their home. Driftwood, cork bark or artificial aquarium plants are a great idea. (Real plants will be eaten straight away) be sure anything you put in is soft. If a snail falls onto something hard they may crack or break their shell. Get creative.
You can buy posters for the back of your tank with various images on it e.g. plants, cities, mountains, cartoon characters.
Soft flower pots such as plastic basic potting ones (clean and empty) are also a great idea for your snail to hide in. Avoid using ones that have been in the garden.
Feeding and Water
Snails should be allowed a fresh supply or vegetables every day, enough to last them a whole day as some of them eat a lot! Organic foods are by far the best for your snails. Always thoroughly wash anything you give to them.
Cuttlefish is a type of bone that all snails require a constant supply of. It can be bought cheaply online or in pet shops. Snails need it for their shell growth and to keep it healthy. Be sure to never run out!
- Lettuce - preferably organic but if not you should feed them leaves closer to the centre due to pesticides.
- Carrots (never the leaves!)
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sweet potato
There are also great snail foods out there to purchase online or in pet shops which are specialised for them and can be great to add in with some fresh vegetables (don't give them snail food alone)
A shallow dish, preferably plastic, should be available for fresh drinking water. Snails often bathe in their water and could drown if the water is very deep.
**Foods your snail should not have**
Onions, pasta (as it can swell in the stomach and kill them), anything with salt can make them very ill or kill them, anything high in starch, fat or processed foods/meats.
You can handle your snails, especially when they are large enough to do so easily. You should wash your hands thoroughly with warm clean water before handling and keep them damp when holding the snail so it is more comfortable. Never lift your snail by the shell as you could pull the shell off of them, crack or break the shell or even damage their organs! If picking them from the side, try to gently slide your finger under them and cup your other hand to prevent them falling. They will become increasingly friendly the more you handle them and as they get older. Try to avoid handling them when they are too tiny to prevent them getting hurt.
ALWAYS supervise children with snails.
ALWAYS wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap after handling snails.
Your snails may require some gentle bathing. You can help them out by very gently wiping them with a damp finger whilst in their water dish. Never hold your snail under the water or a tap as their breathing hole will fill and they will drown. Snails enjoy bathing in their drinking water so make sure it is cleaned every day and never filled too deeply.
Large snails may require handling to gently clean them. NEVER use soaps.
Can GALS be kept in pairs or groups? - Yes! they can live happily alone or in pairs/small groups. Adults and babies should always be separated as babies can do serious damage to the shells of adults or crowd the tank. Be aware that whilst snails can have babies on their own, they are far more likely to reproduce when kept in twos. Snails are hermaphrodites and can easily reproduce on their own but this is uncommon.
How many snails can I own at one time? - As many as you like and can take care of!
Are snails illegal to keep as pets? - In the UK they are not illegal to keep as pets at all, however, it is illegal to release them or dispose of their eggs incorrectly as they can seriously damage the natural balance of things. In the USA and some other countries they are illegal to import, release AND keep as pets. Please do not keep them as pets where it is illegal to do so.
How do I know if my snail has laid eggs? - You should check the terrain every couple of days to make sure there are no eggs. Snail eggs are around 5mm in size and are usually white, they can be easily noticed and will be in clusters of up to 200 at a time! Snails burrow into the ground to lay their eggs by a couple of centimetres. Eggs can easily be found.
What should I do if I don't want snail babies? - You should remove the eggs as soon as you find them. It is illegal to release the eggs or throw them away as they are. Whilst it is horrible, you should either destroy the eggs completely or freeze them for 48 hours and dispose of them properly. If you are very worried about baby snails, keep one snail on its own as this reduces the chance of finding eggs and check the tank at least twice per week.
How often do I clean my snail out? - Once every 3-4 weeks depending on the size of the tank and the number of snails you have. Use warm water to clean it thoroughly. Some substrates can be baked and reused but it is easier to replace. Remember to use only snail safe products!
Can I use garden soil to line my snail's tank? - No! this soil is contaminated with parasites, mites and often with chemicals/pesticides or even salt which could seriously hurt or kill your snails! Always buy properly packaged soils from a garden centre or online and be sure to read the fine print (explained in the substrate article above) or buy snail substrate online and always read the instructions.
Can snails make you sick? - No, snails can't make you sick but in some cases they can carry Salmonella bacteria as with almost all other pets. It is a good idea to wash your hands thoroughly after feeding or handling your pet. Garden snails in particular can in some cases cause Meningitis or other illnesses, this also includes snails that are prepared as food that have not been properly cooked. You CANNOT eat your pet snails! GALS can transmit or carry Meningitis but if they come from a breeder and have had no contact with wild rats or snails they are much less likely to carry it. Always make sure you are fully vaccinated as with any pet.
What if I can no longer take care of my snail? - You should never take animals you cannot afford/ will have to give up. Snails should NEVER be released into the wild and in most countries this is illegal due to the damage they cause to the natural ecosystem. If you can no longer care for them you should take them to a centre or find them a suitable and loving home. Snails can live up to 10 years!
I think my snail is sick, what should I do? - Snails are exotic pets so it can be very hard to treat them. In most cases the internet and thorough research will be your best friend, especially if you can find professionals on forums to help you out. Some exotic vets will treat snails, make sure you research for them so you know where to look if need be. Pet store colleagues can also be a valuable source. Saying this, snails do not commonly fall ill if cared for properly.
How can I tell if my snail is hibernating? - You should monitor the temperature and humidity in the tank each day. If it gets too cold or too hot the snail may hibernate by burrowing down into the dirt. Inactivity is the first sign of hibernation. Snails may also seal their shell up. Don't worry, simply adjusting the temperature/moisture can wake your snail back up again.
Where can I buy a heater/thermometer for my tank? - You can purchase them in pet shops or online at a good price. Shop around, some people even use temporary heating pads if they don't have cold periods for very long. Make sure you use warranted products specifically for heating a tank.
Can I keep my snails in a tank with fish? - No! your snails are land snails and will drown in water!