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Giant African Land Snail caresheet

A close-up portrait of the Giant African Land Snail

The Giant African Land Snail (Achatina fulica).

Carter Ward kindly provided comments and corrections for this caresheet, please check out Carter's website: Understanding Snail Keeping and Where to Start

Introduction

The Giant African Land Snails (Achatina sp.) are molluscs and make ideal pets as they are easy to look after. They can live for several years and grow up to 20cm in length. The snails are most active during the night (they are nocturnal).

Housing

These snails can be housed in a variety of containers, depending upon the size and number of snails that you have. A good container is a glass or plastic aquarium tank. These types of containers allow easy cleaning and you will be able to watch your snails through the sides.

The snails like to burrow, so when you have your tank, fill it with several centimetres of peat-free compost and a large piece of bark. If you collect the bark yourself make sure that you soak it in water overnight to remove any nasty chemicals. Leaf litter and moss are also good at keeping the soil damp. The substrate should be kept moist at all times, but not soggy, and it is important that you monitor the relative humidity within the container and keep this around 70-80% - relative humidity can be monitored accurately with a hygrometer.

The tank should be kept at a temperature of 20-25°C and as constant as possible using a heat mat controlled using a thermostat. Particular care should be taken to avoid sudden changes in temperature.

If snails are not kept in correct conditions they may seal the aperture (opening) to their shell and wait for conditions to improve. If this happens you should review how you are keeping the snails and correct the conditions that led to them sealing their shells. Once you have resolved these housing issues your snails will become active again.

Feeding

The African Land Snails are detritivores and will eat decaying matter. A wide variety of plants, fruit and vegetables can be offered including dandelions, kale, broccoli, sweet/bell peppers, green beans, strawberries, bananas, squashes and parsley. Food that has become mouldy should be removed. Snails also need protein and this can form up to 40% of their diet - commercially available protein mixes are available and should be offered according to the number of snails you have.

Another essential part of the snails diet is calcium. This is used to keep their shells strong and healthy and calcium can be provided in the form of a cuttlefish bone.

Breeding

Many snails are hermaphrodites, which means that they have both male and female sex organs, and two snails are needed for them to breed. However, in the case of Giant African Land Snails a single snail can also lay eggs without having mated. Snails can produce more than one clutch of eggs following mating. As a result, snails that have not been in contact with other snails for some time may still produce batches of eggs (assuming the snail was an adult when it was in contact with other snails).

In general it is best for inexperienced keepers to freeze any eggs for 48 hrs and then either dispose of the eggs or crush them and offer them back to the snails as a source of calcium and protein.

Snail breeding should only be undertaken by more experienced keepers as it is important to make sure that only healthy, genetically unrelated snails that are over two years old are allowed to breed.

Health and cleanliness

Giant Land Snails should be treated with the same care and attention as any other pet but it is important not to replace more than ¼ of the substrate at a time and you should only use hot water and a cloth when cleaning the tank (no detergents or other cleaning products).

Like many animals (caged birds, snakes, terrapins, tortoises, lizards etc.) and some food products (raw poultry and eggs), snails can carry the Salmonella bacteria. Consequently, after handling snails (or cleaning them out), you should wash and disinfect hands thoroughly.

Parasites

The AES is occasionally asked about parasites carried by Giant African Land Snails. Like many slugs and snails, Giant African Land Snails are capable of carrying a parasite known as Rat lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis). This is a parasite of rats but the larvae is passed to snails when snails eat infected rat droppings. Rats then eat the snails and the parasite is passed back to the rat to complete its life cycle.

This parasite can be passed to humans if they eat live/raw infected snails or a part of a snail. In most cases infection does not require medical treatment but, in very rare cases, can cause a rare form of meningitis.

Parasite transmission in the UK is very unlikely for several reasons:

  1. It is thought that rats in the UK do not carry the parasite so snails originating in the UK do not come into contact with infected rat droppings.
  2. Most Giant African Land Snails available in the UK are captive bred within the UK and not imported. Before purchasing any snail you should enquire about its origin (although this is standard advice when buying any animal).
  3. Pet snails are not eaten.

The above does not constitute medical advice. If you are in any way concerned about health risks posed by snails then seek advice from a medical practitioner.

Other information

In some countries it is illegal to own Giant African Land Snails because of the invasive nature of this snail. There are currently no restrictions on owning these snails in the UK but it is illegal to release them (including eggs) into the wild. Excess eggs should be frozen before being disposed of.

For further information on keeping Giant African Land Snails please see: Understanding Snail Keeping and Where to Start

Remember: it is important that you know the needs and requirements of your pet before you obtain the animal. You should never, ever obtain an animal before researching its needs and preparing the housing and conditions.

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