Snails are fascinating creatures that are fairly easy to keep as pets and require little attention. African snails can live for 10 years but generally live 3-7 in captivity so they live longer than a hamster and a guinea pig. Native snails can live for 15 years. Be prepared for a long-term pet. This is especially important to consider in situations where you are buying for a child. They may get bored and you will be left to look after them. Having said that they only require minimal attention and are happy to be left to themselves. If you're not completely convinced it is probably wise to keep a native species first. That way, if snail keeping is not for you, you can return them to the wild.
Snails do react to stimuli and can get bored so it is imperative to keep your snails in a fairly interesting home, with nooks and crannies to hide and compost or peat for them to burrow in. They respond well to being handled, and though primarily nocturnal can be encouraged to emerge at other times of the day very easily.
There are conflicting opinions whether it is detrimental to keep a snail in isolation. Some people report better health and faster growth but as I think most people would generally agree, snails kept together tend to bunch together whilst sleeping, indicating they are happier with other snails around. These are one of the few exotic pets than can be kept together so it would be a shame not to take advantage of that fact. The snails like to interact and keep both themselves and us amused. It has been proven snails can self-fertilise so keeping one won't stop them reproducing.
They are harmless to animals and people (see handling), cheap to house, maintain and feed, rarely suffer from illness and show outward signs of being unhappy with their conditions allowing you to react before they die. When they are ill however, like most invertebrates, they are difficult to treat because not that much research has ever been done.
Basic care is required without which the snails will not survive.
Below is quick capsule version of the very basics. For more detailed care instructions read further on or use the links at the top.
To get started, at the very minimum to keep two adult African snails you will need the following:
- Plastic Tank roughly 45 x 30 x 30, that is escape proof, with a strong lid and good ventilation. (Smaller European snails and babies can be kept very successfully in tupperware tubs, with ventilation holes made in the lid or sides.
- Peat/Compost/Vermiculite/Sphagnum Moss to line the bottom of the tank.
- A source of calcium (ie. cuttlefish bones, natural chalk etc.)
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
- Non-brittle places to hide such as plastic, overturned plant pots or cork bark etc.
- 1 old soft toothbrush for cleaning the shells.
- 1 Soft Sponge for cleaning the tank.
- 1 spray/misting bottle.
This will cost you about £15 roughly for a minimal set-up.
You need to:
- Provide the snails with a clean, fresh, damp environment.
- Wash all their food thoroughly before you give it to them.
- Remove all old food and detritus everyday. (every other day if the food doesn't spoil quickly).
- Supply clean calcium at all times.
- Wipe down the inside of the tank whenever it starts to get dirty.
- Change the substrate when it starts to look dirty (roughly once a week, depending on the number of snail kept), if the better option of a live planted, custodian-dwelling tank isn't being used.
- Scrub the tank thoroughly with a cleaning agent and boiling water and then RINSE throughly about once a month.
- Bathe the snails regularly (roughly once a month).
- Regularly check for eggs and destroy them (every other day in warm weather).