Caring for Pet Land Snails

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Land snails are suitable pets for elementary-school-age kids, who can learn from watching snails crawl, eat, grow and breed. Some species of land snail are illegal to possess in the United States; pet stores carry a variety of land snail species that are perfectly legal. If you collect snails from your yard instead, you can establish a colony of pets while helping preserve your garden and grass.

Captive Habitat

You can keep multiple snails in a clear terrarium made of plastic or glass. Cover the bottom with moist paper towels, or provide 1 to 2 inches of soil. Don’t use dirt from your garden, which could contain pesticides or parasites; instead, purchase chemical-free substrate at a pet store. Provide your snails some loose leaves -- dandelion leaves work well -- for them to gnaw on and hide beneath. Land snails survive dry conditions by sealing themselves inside their shells, or estivating. If you want active snails, provide moisture. Mist or spray the walls every few days. Fasten the terrarium cover with rubber bands or clamps to prevent your snails from escaping.

Food

Snails eat a variety of fruits, leaves and vegetables -- which is why they’re commonly regarded as garden pests. In captivity, land snails enjoy bits of apple, carrots and cucumber. Supplement their diet with chalk, egg shells or cuttlefish bone, which many pet stores carry. All these contain calcium or lime, which strengthen your snails' shells, help the snails grow and provide nutrients for their eggs.

Breeding

Most land snails are hermaphrodites, meaning each individual has both male and female sex organs and can develop eggs and sperm. They need to mate in order to fertilize the eggs, though. If your snails press their heads -- where their genital openings are located -- together, they’re probably courting or breeding. Land snails lay round, translucent eggs either singly or in clusters of up to 100. If you want baby snails to hatch, provide plenty of shelter, such as plant leaves, small log pieces or moist soil, where the snail can dig a shallow burrow. Depending on the species, eggs hatch in two weeks to 45 days. Once they're born, you can feed and care for them just as you do the adults.

Cleaning and Handling

Clean out your snails’ terrarium at least weekly. If they’re on the walls or leaves, slide them to the top edge and then pick them up rather than peel them off. Spray the walls with water, and use paper towels or cloth to clean off mucus trails. Throw away uneaten food, clean out waste and replace the leaves. When you touch or move your snails, wear gloves; wash your hands after you clean the terrarium. Snails can pass along salmonella, parasites -- including one that causes meningitis -- and bacteria.

Choosing a Snail

Before you buy a land snail from a pet store, check state and federal regulations. Giant African land snails, a popular species, are illegal; the U.S. Department of Agriculture has classified them as invasive because they eat crops. Decollate snails, giant Ghana tiger snails and margies are also prohibited, but some pet stores sell them anyway. Other snails are legal only with a USDA permit. Often, you can catch land snails in your garden or a wooded area to keep as pets.

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