Acquired: Bred invertebrate myself
Congleton, Cheshire, United Kingdom
Posted Sep 20, 2012
Because they are generally considered a pest, garden snails are not typically considered as a pet. However, they are very easy to care for, require minimal maintenance and are suitable even for very young children.
I became interested in snails by accident. I'm interested in Ancient Roman cookery and their use of snails of all types for food got me interested in snails in general. I visited an edible snail (escargot) farm and started a small colony. But common garden snails were everywhere in the garden. I started collecting them and began to purge and fatten them, first for the chickens and ducks and then for my own table.
They were placed in big plastic containers with air holes in the lids. I used damp newspaper as a substrate and starved them for 2 days (this allows them to eliminate any toxins they may have built up, either from plant matter or pesticides). After this time, the substrate was changed and they were fed on a diet of dandelion leaves, mustard greens and finely-diced carrot from the garden.
The boxes were cleaned every day and they were fed for seven days. After this they were fed to the birds. If I was bringing them into the house for cooking I would purge them for 2 days at the end to ensure the intestinal tracts were clean then they were cooked. Though a bit chewy, they are surprisingly versatile and there are quite a few recipes available for them.
Still, I do like to know about any animals I am rearing (and you can rear snails sustainably). So I brought a few into the house and installed them in a plastic tank with a tight-fitting lid. The substrate was a mix of paper and moss and wood and rocks were used to form natural nooks and crannies for protection and to act as shade.
I used a water mister every other day to keep the tank moist and damp. They were fed on a mix of vegetables and greens, provided in plastic screw-cap bottle tops (this lets you see what they are eating and makes removal easy). Every other day I checked over the environment and cleaned out any eggs.
Now, snails are self-limiting in therms of their numbers. Their slime contains a chemical that suppresses egg laying. However, they nee to continually cross each others' trails for this to work. If keeping in captivity, where you clean their environment regularly, you are removing the slime and so this natural regulation mechanism does not work. And, yes, they excrete a lot, so regular cleaning is a must.
What surprised me was now social snails are. In the evening they huddle together for warmth. Because they are hermaphrodite, it does not matter if you keep them singly or in multiples, they will still produce viable eggs. And after watching them it seems they prefer each others' company.
They fertilize each other by firing darts at one another and this courtship is very fascinating to watch. One note, a snail's shell is composed of lots of calcium. Snails will sicken and die if they do not have sufficient calcium in their diets. I tend to provide a small block of natural calcium in their boxes, but I also give them a mix of finely-ground egg shells and seashells.
Providing calcium keeps the snails healthy and if well kept they can live up to 15 years. They are prone to certain poorly-understood viral conditions and if infected you can lose the majority of your colony. There is, unfortunately, little you can do about this apart from isolating your snails and keeping them as well fed and cared for as possible. In captivity the shells can also be prone to bacterial and fungal damage. It is a good idea to clean the shells with a soft, used, toothbrush every few weeks (just do this gently using clean water).
These are probably some of the easiest pets you can keep and they are suitable for anyone, hence the high rating.