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How to care for a snail?
May 31, 2014 6:28 PM   Subscribe

How does one properly care for a snail?

I have a friend who likes odd bugs and things, and she and her housemate recently decided to acquire a cool-looking garden snail as a pet. They've been feeding it lettuce, and given it some dirt and a shot-glass to hide in (which it seems to like), but most of their advice comes from youtube and wikihow. I offered to use my MeFi membership to see about finding some more reliable advice.
posted by Canageek to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Can you post a picture of the snail? Or do you have a link to the kind of snail it is or a picture of the kind of snail it looks like? I think that it's probably going to need a vivarium, but otherwise it's helpful to know the exact type in order to give more specific info (some snails can breed alone, some need a mate, etc -- depends on the species).

I have some "pet" snails, if that gives you more confidence that it can be done! (The ones I have right now are just ordinary pond snails, though).
posted by rue72 at 6:36 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]


May I recommend the delightful book, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey? Not so much a how to, but a delightful story of how and why she did and what she learned.
posted by harrietthespy at 6:54 PM on May 31


rue72: I'll email for one now. I know she'd be delighted to share one.

harrietthespy: I'll pass it on.
posted by Canageek at 6:56 PM on May 31


Kid BlahLaLa and I kept two ordinary garden snails happy for about a year before releasing them back into our garden. We fed them all sorts of random fruit and veggies, and they LOVED apples. We kept them in a terrarium-type enclosure, with a dirt section, some random kid-designed greenery and a water bowl And since we live in a very dry climate, I also frequently (daily, I think) misted the entire enclosure. Then once a week or so I'd carefully lift them out and give the whole thing a rinse-out. Ours seemed to be quite happy, and frequently cuddled up together in ways that the folks on YouTube, at least, seemed to find positive signs.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:02 PM on May 31


Hi! I have many pet snails, and a great place to start on the snail-keeping journey is the petsnails forum here.

Tell your friend to feed the snail only well-washed organic produce and regularly mist him with water. Keep a small amount of water available in some sort of pool for him to bathe in. Make sure it's shallow as they cannot swim- I like to keep water pools (well-washed peanut butter jar lids) shallowly tilted with a deep end and a dry end so that they can easily climb out.

Always wash hands and rinse thoroughly before touching the snail as their skin and shells are very sensitive to foods, oils and chemicals- soap is "snail repellant"!

If the snail is kept in an enclosure, be sure that it's plastic, as anything hard like glass puts them at risk of cracking their shells. Similarly, do not put anything hard like rocks or metal inside their enclosure. Snails often climb high and then take a tumble when they are asleep!

A snail with a damaged shell is in great danger as they cannot survive without their shells- some of their vital organs are stored inside. Slugs ARE NOT just snails without shells! The petsnails board has information on caring for snails should they become ill or injured. And be careful not to " tug" them away from a surface they are clinging to. Instead, mist them with water and push or glide them off. Be gentle!

Obviously, keep acidic or salty things away from them. Give them space to explore as they love to have adventures! And they also enjoy burrowing, so a substrate they can dig in is extra fun for them. But be careful- digging can also mean they're laying eggs!

Please feel free to memail me with any questions! Snails are very friendly, sweet and gentle creatures and quite fun to watch. They are social creatures though, so this snail will likely be happiest with a little snail pal!
posted by windykites at 7:49 PM on May 31 [22 favorites]


Also, mine go wild for cucumber and wet carrot slices!
posted by windykites at 7:53 PM on May 31


Thanks windykites! I've emailed my friend and I'm sure she'll be rooting around for a second one soon.
posted by Canageek at 8:29 PM on May 31


Oh, and they've just been feeding theirs lettuce, so I'll let them know more veggies are OK then just that.
posted by Canageek at 8:31 PM on May 31


My snails, Mario and Luigi, liked to climb so we made little ramp systems for them that we changed around whenever we cleaned their enclosure. They seemed eager to explore the new layout whenever we brought them back home after housekeeping. And yes, they are friendly!
posted by carmicha at 9:01 PM on May 31


What did you make the ramps out of?
posted by Canageek at 9:17 PM on May 31


I started with sticks but then a child I knew offered up some hot wheels ramps that worked great once we cut them into shorter lengths and melted the cut ends (a gentle pass with a soldering gun, or maybe it was a wood burner) so there were no sharp edges. The sticks and ramps led to mossy and lichen-covered rocks that stayed healthy because of the daily misting. This was a long time ago so I don't have any photos or I'd post them. This was in a 50 gallon aquarium and, after reading windykite's post, I realize I was doing it all wrong re: rocks and glass. I didn't know about the fall risk either but we had lots of soft natural material on the tank floor.
posted by carmicha at 7:19 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]


!!! Can I like this question any harder?!

I had a pet snail for three years, ever since he came to me as a wee little thing in a strawberry container. We moved cross-country together, and he was a daily delight. I loved that little gastropod.

It's a little old/not frequently updated, but I found http://www.petsnails.co.uk/ a good resource. Now that I check, it's the same community as the forum that WindyKites linked to. The website has lots of care information, food lists, and FAQs.

One really important feature that I don't think has been mentioned yet is their need for calcium. Snails grow their own shells; they don't move into new ones like hermit crabs do. As such, they need a constant supply of calcium--not enough can lead to weakened shells and cracks. You'll find different advice on this; some people use eggshells (wash them and remove the membrane) and mine did OK on them for awhile, but what he really enjoyed best was cuttlefish bone. It's easily available in pet stores that cater to bird owners. (weird: sometimes you'll find it in a flavor, like banana; I preferred the plain ones, not knowing what was in the flavored ones) In order to keep the bone fresh (my snail was a fastidious little creature, and clearly preferred a clean environment, fresh food and water, and new pieces of cuttlefish bone), I would break a whole bone into small pieces and dole them out. When I cleaned the cage, I would scrub the old pieces, let them dry, and put them back, but he always preferred the new ones.

Mine lived (once I figured out that the strawberry container wasn't the optimal home) in a small plastic terrarium, of the sort a kid might keep a hermit crab in. Keep in mind that they will climb the side of the container. Sometimes, especially if they're a bit dry, they can lose suction, fall, and injure themselves. I wouldn't recommend a container that is *too* tall on that account, and of course it must have ventilation but no holes big enough that he will try to climb out and get stuck (it happened with the strawberry container, and was a frightening experience for both of us, I believe). The petsnails.co.uk site suggested (sterilized--read up on this if you go this route) moss or dirt to line the container, but I have to admit that mine seemed fine without it. It was easier to clean the container frequently that way, and I never had an issue with laying eggs. The container will get dirty as uneaten food starts to decay and as your snail extretes, so I would recommend taking everything out and cleaning it carefully when that happens--I think for me this averaged about once a week or at most two. Rinse carefully and make sure it's free of soap. If his shell gets dirty, you can very carefully scrub it, too, with a soft old toothbrush or something like that.

It's extremely important to have the water (again, make sure it's shallow! they can drown!) available at all times, as they can easily dry out, especially if you don't use a substrate. Mine seemed to enjoy sitting in the container. (rub-a-dub-dub)

Most fruit and vegetable foods (avoid salt and acid, and too much starch, but I think mine was fine with citrus; and it always made my heart melt to give him strawberries, as befit his origin) are fine; there's a list of foods that have worked for others here. I tried to keep variety in his diet, and generally just gave him scraps of whatever I was eating. Especially when the weather is warm, you may have to change out the food frequently, as it will decay and mold, and they really don't like that.

He (I know they're hermaphrodites, but it was fun to say 'he') was a complete delight. They're undemanding pets and surprisingly fascinating to watch. You'll get to know your snail's individual personality, his likes and dislikes. I enjoyed the sound of him rasping away at the cuttlebone and how he looked nibbling daintily on food. I loved how excited (active, anyway) he seemed to become right after I cleaned his cage or when I gave him fresh food and water. He seemed to be fine with being left with enough food and water for a couple of days if I wanted to go away somewhere, but anything longer than that I got a "snail-sitter" to look after him and give him fresh food and water (another plus: they're so portable), often converting new snail lovers in the process. I would even occasionally take him for small outings (I called them walks) in which I would take him to a park and let him out of the container for a little while, under careful supervision for anything that could harm him, like excited dogs or predatory birds. (So many interesting looks on the bus to and from...)

Feel free to contact me if you have more questions or if your friends want to geek out over snails (you too, WindyKites!). Mine's been gone over a year and I still miss him.
_@Y <-- ASCII snail
posted by spelunkingplato at 1:03 PM on June 1 [7 favorites]


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