Garden Snail

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Other common names: Brown garden snail; Cornu aspersum; Cantareus aspersus; Cryptomphalus aspersus

Scientific name: Helix aspersa

The basics:
The Garden Snail is a gastropod which is native to the Mediterranean and Western Europe, but which has been spread (intentionally and accidentally) to many other places around the world. These days the garden snail is most likely to be viewed as a garden and agricultural pest (it causes considerable crop damage world-wide). In the past though it was thought of more as an edible delicacy. Their slow movement and slow size and the fact that they are in no way harmful to humans make them an excellent pet, especially for children.

Although one of the common names call them 'brown' shell colour is more variable than this and they can often have yellow and light brown banding or tortoiseshell patterning. Like all snails they have a soft and slimy body and they travel on the base of their bodies (which is called the 'foot'). They exude a mucous from their bodies and it this that allows them move across all kinds of environments without injuring their bodies. If the weather becomes too cold or too dry they will seal themselves in their shells with a plug of dried mucous known as an epiphragm. They can also vary the constituents of their blood, allowing them to survive down to -5ºC.

When snails are active the heat and tail emerges from the shell and the head extends four protruberances (tentacles). The upper two are longer and have eye-like photosensors at their tips. The lower two tentacles which perform tactile and olfactory sensory duties. The mouth is located below the tentacles and this contains a chitin-based structure known as a radula that is used to manipulate food into the mouth.

Garden snails are exclusively herbivorous and will eat a whole range of plant matter from tree leaves to small flowering plants.

Like many terrestrial pulmoate gastropods snails are hermaphroditic and though they prefer to reproduce sexually, exchanging sperm by means of 'love darts' they can

Appearance / health:
The Garden Snail has the classic snail form of a soft body and a spiral-shaped shell. The shell is variable in colour, though the base colour is typically brown. Black banding can sometimes be present and yellow flecks and streaks are common. Some snails have a very pretty tortoiseshell pattern. The shell is 'calcareous' (ie based on calcium) and is typically 25–40 mm in diameter and 25–35 mm high and formed from four or five whorls (the shell increases in size spirally as the snail grows). The body is soft and about three times the length of the shell and can vary in colour from black to fawn.

Behavior / temperament:
Snails are quite slow, very calm and can readily be handle. They pose no threat to humans and make an ideal starter pet for even young children. It can be truly fascinating, watching them interact with one another in their tank. However, because of their longevity (they can live up to 15 years) they are not a pet for the short-term. Bear this in mind if you are gifting them as a pet to a small child.

Snails seem to like each others' company and the garden snail is gregarious, naturally clumping together at night for shared warmth. Small snails can be kept in larger tupperware containers, as long as here are sufficient air holes in the lid. But it is better to keep them in a plastic tank. This needs to be escape-proof and must have a tight-fitting lid. This way you can give your snails room to explore and give them damp hidey-holes (halved plastic bottles, bits of bark, mounded stones). It is also easier to clean a tank than other containers. It is also good to keep woodlice with your snails. They will help clean the environment and will give an early indication if the environment is becoming too dry. The environment must be kept moist and this is easiest done by using a misting bottle to spray the inside of the tank twice a day.

You should refresh the substrate of the tank once a week and check for eggs every other day (destroy these, or you will be inundated with baby snails).

If you are taking snails from the wild for human consumption or to feed as treats to chickens or guineafowl then they need to be purged beforehand. Because so many people put down poisons for slugs and snails these must be cleared from their system before you cook them or feed to other animals. One of the best places to keep them is an old recycling bin (this is made of plastic and has a lockable lid). Form holes in the top and use damp newspaper as the substrate. Starve them for three days to allow them to purge. Discard the substrate and replace then feed with greens and vegetable peelings for a week before feeding to other animals or cooking.

Garden snails are very healthy animals and very long lived. They require minimal maintenance, but they do need to have their shells cleaned occasionally to prevent fungal and bacterial build-up. Snails can also be prone to viral diseases and an outbreak can be devastating. Unfortu

Garden snail will eat almost any leafy matter and they will be happy on a diet of lettuce and cabbage. However, like all snails, they do require a source of calcium. This could be natural chalk or ground shellfish shells and cuttlefish shells. If feeding your snails a varied diet it is a good idea to place the different foodstuffs in plastic bottle tops as this makes adding to and removing from the tank very easy.

Written by Dyfed Lloyd Evans


Fascinating little creatures, children, observation, classroom work


soft vulnerable body, sensitive eye stalks


calcium, Ancient Roman cookery, especially little boys, social snails, mildly moist environment

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