From time to time you may experience problems with your snails. Very little is known about what these illnesses are, what causes them, and even less is known about treatments. Unfortunately it seems more time is spent on increasingly more ingenious ways to kill them.
Because of this, the following information is a mix of whatever research is possible and available, theory and hypothesis, logical thinking and the result of various discussions with a large group of snail owners. It is with the help of the community at large, that these problems can at least be documented. Where possible I have tried to link to example incidents.
Hopefully, we can find some effective solutions to the majority of these problems but for now I'm afraid you'll have to be content with various suggestions and discussion.
Snail Diseases, Injuries and Mutations
This article is taken from http://geocities.com/sarkymite/snaildisease.html which is no longer active. It is preserved here because of its usefulness.
The illnesses of snails is something that nobody seems to know all that much about. What I am gradually putting together on this page are the problems I have experienced with my own snails and the cures and remedies (if any) that I have used.
Scroll down to reach each disease. As this page gets bigger I will probably make it easier to use by providing links to the relevant sections, but as yet it is still a work in progress. To add to the information here or to discuss what I have written please feel free to contact me. Please type "snail disease" in the subject line and I will respond as soon as I am able.
This is a work in progress as we do not yet know if the treatment has worked. An aquaintance had the unfortumate experience of dropping his snail while carrying it, and the impact created a hole in the shell, a few millimetres wide, at the top end, where the ovo-testes are. (That is the second coil from top). The snail's insides were visible through the hole. It looked as if the snail would not survive as the hole meant it was drying out far too quickly, but Matt came up with the idea of sticking a piece of clean eggshell over the hole with some nail glue to hold it in place. Nail glue is quick-drying, so the snail cannot try to eat it before it sets, and therefore it theoretically should be safe so long as no glue goes in the hole. Within a very short time the snail stopped dehydrating and began to retain a more normal appearance. This is very recent so at this time we do not know if the treatment will be entirely sucessful, - I will add to this page as and when I find out. Of course there is the issue of what to do if the eggshell wears out or breaks, but that is a future obstacle. At the moment the eggshell patch seems to be doing the trick.
Expelled Digestive Tract
This is a very uncommon sighting in snails I believe, yet it happened to two of my snails in fairly quick sucession. The first snail expelled it's entire digestive tract inside out through it's mouth, breaking it's radula into several bits at the same time. It survived for 2 days after this, though was unable to retract the gut and after two days I took the decision to put it to sleep. The second snail (my dear Delilah! Sob!) did the same thing two weeks later, but the gut was not entirely expelled, and the radula was not broken. This one died a matter of hours after the expulsion of the gut occurred, and rigor mortis had set in by the fourth hour.
Of the first snail I have no records of ill health as it was under the care of my parents, but Delilah had been ill for some time and these are the symptoms I noticed in her in the 6 months leading up to the gut expulsion and her death
- loss of appetite
- cessation of shell growth
- Increased damage to existing shell (no shell repair)
- Increased periods of inactivity, leading up to almost total inactivity in the weeks before death.
- change in the appearance of the mouth and radula. See diagram below. (please excuse my poor attempt at drawing!)
This difference in the mouth of the snail was the most important aspect of the illness I think. Both snails certainly had this problem. Therefore I think the illness was either due to a parasitic invasion of some sort or possibly due to a genetic defect in these two snails (which were desended from the same parents) which caused them to undergo a mutation of some sort. Not knowing enough about genetics this is only a hypothesis. Another possibility is that the snails had tumours or other growths causing illness and gut expulsion. As I do not have the equimpent necessary for post mortem I do not have any way of discovering if this is the case.
This is certainly one of the more disturbing afflictions I have seen in any snail. The gut hanging from the mouth is not a pretty sight and it is clear that the snail is in incredible discomfort. It takes a lot of willpower to pick the affected creature up to examine or move it. I would have to reccomend that when this occurrs the only humane course of action is to have the snail put to sleep.
I have heard of other cases where at first the snail was able to retract the expelled gut and carry on as normal, but in all cases the expulsion occurred again, and no snail that I know of has ever recovered from this. Therefore euthanasia seems to be the correct course even if the snailhas recovered once before from the same affliction.
Death from Malnutrition
By this I do not mean death caused by underfeeding. Rather I mean that the snail simply refused to eat, lost weight and died. I have seen this happen three times, each time in a juvenile snail which was also below average size. The snail would attempt to estivate a lot, and would be inactive for long periods. It would eat only a small amount of food when coaxed. Gradually the body changed colour, darkening to an almost black grey, and the snail felt lighter and lighter in weight. When retracted into the shell the snail would go a long way in instead of just as far as the rim of the shell. Untreated, the snail was eventually found shrunken into the shell and beginning to decay.
I have found that if detected early this can be treated, though I am not sure about cured, as the snails that have had this problem have all died at a fairly young age. Treatments I have used include a lukewarm bath every day to encourage the snail to move about, and feeding the snail with baby food or pureed fruit and vegetable, with calcium powder sprinkled into it. Keeping the snail slightly warmer and moister than usual also seemed to help, but when the treatments were discontinued the snail quickly lost condition again and as mentioned above, died.
My theory is that the process of natural selection has a part in this. In each batch of eggs there are many baby snails and some are strong. There are also some very weak ones, and I believe that it is these snails which so mysteriously "lose the will to live" at a young age. As yet I do not know of any guaranteed cure.
Death after overfeeding on pasta
This has happened to two of my snails at the same time. I can hereby reccommend that you do not feed pasta to your snails. It may be ok in a very small quantity, but in my opinion not worth the risk. I gave them a plate of half-cooked pasta (cooled of course) and left them to eat. All four seemed very keen on it and so I left them to it until they had all finally left the plate alone, when I removed the leftovers, which were about half the original quantity. I noticed a few hours later the snails were beginning to look very lethargic. I decided they must be very full, and left them in peace overnight. The next morning two in particular seemed to be in far worse condition. They were sitting on top of the substrate with their bodies fully extended, eyestalks retracted, - they looked much like an asphyxiated snail does, - and were not keen to move at all, even when encouraged. I realised then that I had made a mistake in giving them so much pasta. I left them well alone, with no food, and well-misted. I re-misted every few hours to make sure they had enough moisture. While two snails recovered, one to complete fitness and one to the stage wher I know it would be ok, the two that were sicker got worse. I noted they had not moved all day, and had not excreted at all either. I left them untouched but with plenty of water overnight. The next morning both were dead, - the smaller one had simply retracted into it's shell and given up the ghost as it were, but the large fulicia had done something terrible. Not only was it's body filled with fluid, giving it a really bloated appearance, but it had pushed it's body from the shell, - as if to make new shell growth but on a massive scale. Instead of a millimetre rim of body where the area of new growth was, which I would expect, especially when the snail has over-eaten, there was an area of body showing that was a good 3 centimetres at it's widest part. Obviously the snail had been unable to digest the pasta, especially in such a large quantity, and his body had undergone some violent reaction causing swelling, fluid retention and death. Sadly this was the mutated snail with eight rings (see genetic mutations below) and so I have lost something rare here. The other snail to die was Achatina immaculata, again sadly a fairly rare snail.
Cures: Well the best cure is prevention, so learn from my mistake and do not feed your snail pasta. If however it is too late for that advice, or you see similar symptoms when giving other "stodgy" foods, I reccommend removing all food from the tank, keeping the snails well misted, and leaving them to rest. One of the snails that survived took several days to recover back to his fool health, - so patience is important, and also make sure you don't feed the snail until you are sure he is feeling better (a sign of this would be if he has excreted any of the remains of the pasta) Below is a picture of the snail that died shortly after death. It is not a nice picture so don't look if you are squeamish.
Note the protruding inner body, and the extended body, swollen and distorted into a rather odd shape. Fluid and mucus can also be seen escaping from what was the breathing aperture under the nearside of the shell.
Note here also the unusual shell shape (relevant to the section on genetic mutation below). It is thinner and more streamlined than the normal fulicia shell, and has eight and a half coils as opposed to the usual seven and a half.
Mutation caused by overcrowding: (Non-Genetic Mutation)
I am ashamed to say that I have seen this happen in my own snails. I have two Achatina fulica which are only 5cm long and have rounded shells not dissimilar in shape to those of the aquatic apple snail. Their shells are also very rough and ribbed and are in parts grey in colour. I believe their condition to result from them being kept in an overcrowded tank for the first two years of their life. As newly-hatched babies they were put in with two adult snails in a small-ish tank. At the time I had no choice as I had no room for a larger tank and no-one willing to take on the baby snails (which had hatched by accident as I had missed the eggs and therefore not removed and destroyed them). They grew very slowly indeed, so that after two years they were still the size of 1 month old babies. Removing them to a larger tank has caused them to grow considerably, but they retain their unusual shape and are significantly smaller than other snails of the same species. However this does not seem to affect them. They eat, sleep, and so on just like any other snail, and also are perfectly able to produce viable eggs.
This is mutation that occurs naturally and not due to error on the part of the snail keeper. The most significant differences between snails I have noticed is that some grow far larger than others, when all are kept in exactly the same way. However a more interesting mutation is that of an extra coil to the shell. I had an Achatina fulica with an extra coil. His shell was also very pointed, thin and streamlined looking. He had eight and a half coils as opposed to the seven and a half of all my other fulicia snail. Interestingly he was still growing fast, and showing no signs of developing a proper shell lip, and looked set to grow yet another entire coil. Unfortunatly he befell a rather untimely death, see the pasta incident above.
This mutation is obviously out of the control of the snail-keeper. It is a genetic variation. However the possibility of breeding for this kind of variation, by using the snail's eggs and then only keeping and breeding the offspring which also show the same kind of tendency has yet to be explored. Perhaps when I have room for yet another tank I will try to do this.