CP 76000, Mexico
Posted Mar 24, 2015
Keeping a garden snail habitat is jolly good fun. Children especially will enjoy it, but I'm an adult without kids and I also think it's a blast.
I got the idea from owning a tank with a tiny leak that made it unsuitable for fish. My research revealed that I could make a perfectly nice snail terrarium out of it. I paid the children of a colleague to collect the snails for me, which they loved doing.
A 10 gallon glass tank with a lid makes a fine snail habitat. There should not be too many hard surfaces in the tank, because snails can fall from the sides or lid and crack their shells (I learned from experience). My tank has three inches of potting soil substrate, and one large, twisted, multi-pronged branch that the snails absolutely adore climbing on. This is a parrot branch that I bought at a pet store; it works wonderfully well.
There are also several pieces of cuttlebone in the tank - a necessity, because snails will die without access to sufficient calcium.
The snails eat all kinds of vegetables and fruits. These can be allowed to rot slightly, since some snails will prefer rotted food. I don't like food that liquefies too quickly, though (such as strawberries). My snails thrive on a mixture of shredded romaine lettuce, shredded or sliced carrots and potatoes, and finely diced apples, cucumbers, and eggplants. Eggplant is their especial favorite; it doesn't last long.
Buy a mister and mist the entire tank at least three or four times a day (but I do so even more often). A humid environment is important to the snails' well-being. I haven't found a heater to be necessary, though.
The sides of the tank should be wiped down with warm water once a week, because otherwise the slime and poop start to build up and become crusty. I use a toothbrush to clean tough spots. The substrate should not be changed, however, because the bacteria that build up in it are important to the snails' health.
To assist in the cleaning of the tank, many snail hobbyists enlist the help of pill bugs (AKA woodlice AKA isopods AKA roly-polies), earthworms, even a gecko (although geckos will go after baby snails). I haven't got any earthworms yet, but I have collected several hundred pill bugs for my tank (I'll write about them in a separate review here at the site). I consider the pill bugs to be equal citizens in the tank, and every bit as much my pets as the snails themselves.
The snails are great fun to watch - the combination of their hard shells and delicate bodies and eyestalks is entrancing. Garden snails are hermaphroditic, interestingly, so any snail can mate with any other, and mine certainly have. They lay clutches of eggs in the soil, and babies that look practically microscopic emerge a few weeks later. Adult snails do not care for their offspring - you're on your own there, kiddo - and not all the babies will "make it," but I have some that are growing nicely. They take a year to two years to reach full size.
Right now in my tank I have nine adult Helix aspersa, and who knows how many babies and pill bugs. I have room for some more adults, and will try to collect some locally when the rainy season starts here in Mexico.
If snail-keeping sounds of interest to you, I would definitely give it a try!