Acquired: Bred invertebrate myself,
Rescue / shelter organization
Congleton, Cheshire, United Kingdom
Posted Sep 20, 2012
This is the classic French snail that is cooked to give us escargot. It's about twice the size of the common garden snail. The Edible Snail is also commonly called the Roman Snail (the Romans had a fondness for eating them and they spread this snail throughout their empire).
In France, it has been a long-held belief that this snail cannot be easily farmed (they need damp conditions near rivers and streams and a chalky soil) and they are still typically harvested from the wild. But heliculture for this snail has been developed in Germany, Austria and England.
In many ways, farming snails is just like farming any other herbivore, just on a smaller scale.
Snails are herbivores and need plenty of vegetable matter. You need to start with an alkaline soil which has plenty of chalk (calcium carbonate) in it (the snails use this to form their shells). This is planted with crops for the snails to eat (clover, mangold, kale, chicory, turnip, rape, spinach, beet, wild cabbage etc). Once the crops have grown they are divided into plots with metal barriers that are dug deeply into the ground.
The edible snails are introduced as baby snails often harvested from the wild. Because the snails need plenty of moisture and a humid microclimate the pens are often sprayed with water once a day. The snails are allowed to graze until the area has been cleared. The snails are then removed to another enclosure and the grazed areas are ploughed and re-planted. The snails are typically harvested either in late spring (just after they have laid their eggs), or just after they have hibernated for winter (when they are heaviest). The snails are then typically washed, boiled to cook and then pickled or canned ready for sale.
These days, though, it is more common for farmed snails to be Turkish snails, or crosses between Turkish snails and Edible snails or even common garden snails because it is much easier to get them to reproduce in captivity.
Edible snails can be kept as pets, but they are much more finicky than their garden snail counterparts (the main problem is in giving them enough useable calcium in their diet). I would recommend these for people who have experience with snails only. The Turkish snail is better for an amateur, is prettier and is about the same size and characteristics as the Edible snail. If you are keeping Edible snails as pets then they need plenty of humidity and warmth. A plastic tank is best as this keeps the humidity in. I have found that placing woodlice in the enclosure helps keep it clean and they give an early indication if humidity levels are not right. You will still need to clean your enclosure frequently, ensure you have plenty of shade and hidey-holes (stacked bark is good). Edible snails do not often reproduce in captivity (which is why farming them sustainably is hard) and it can take a lot of trial and error to get the conditions 'just right' for them. Also, as they like humid conditions shell infections and fungal blooms are a real problem. You will need to wash your snails' shells regularly with clean water and an used toothbrush.
Just remember that, though snails make a great pet, especially for younger children, they are very long-lived.