Giant African Land Snail Care
Giant African Land Snail by 'premedito' (flickr)
Giant African land snails are popular pets due to their unusually large size, availability and extreme ease of care. They make fantastic first pets for children and help teach responsibility, ownership and care of pets. They also make interesting and easy to keep pets for just about everybody.
When talking about giant African land snails you are more often than not referring to one of two species, East African Land Snails (Achatina fulica) and West African Land Snails (Achatina marginata), however any Achatina sp. is generally called a giant African land snail. Luckily for us however care is pretty much the same between the different species.
Due to their ease of care and EXTREMELY high fecundity (see the breeding section below) giant African land snails are readily available in pet stores, internet forums and even on ebay. You can buy them at any size from egg to adult, personally I prefer to buy youngsters (or even eggs if I’m feeling ambitious) so you can see your pet snails grow up.
Giant African Land Snail housing
These snails are not fussy and will do well in a variety of housing types. Converted aquariums or other glass tanks are good, as are the cheap plastic terrariums you see at most pet shops. You can also use old plastic shoe boxes, ice cream tubs (for youngsters) and Tupperware containers. Like I say, so long as it is large enough and has the correct amount of ventilation you’ll have some happy snails. The main consideration when choosing an enclosure for your giant African land snail is to choose something which can be cleaned easily as they tend to get rather messy (these snails like to climb the sides of their enclosure a lot and in doing so spread alot of dirt and compost around).
In terms of size, 1`-3 adult snails can be kept in a 10 gallon vivarium, you should add 5 gallons per extra adult snail you add.
Substrate should be untreated compost (no insecticides!) or similar, organic potting soil works well. I quite like to use coconut fibre simply because I like how it looks and more importantly, it has a rather nice smell to it. Avoid untreated peat compost as it is generally too acidic. Giant African land snails like to bury themselves in their substrate so for adults I would try to offer at least 10cm of substrate. I should say no ill effects will be had from not providing this (so long as you provide some hides), the result will be you see your snails a little more but they might not be quite as happy as they would be with lots of substrate to bury themselves in.
Ensure the substrate is damp but not soaked or waterlogged. A good measure is that the substrate should form a crumbly ball when squeezed together in the hand, no water should run off it when squeezed in this way.
Other decor should include a shallow lipped water bowl from which they can drink and then some more aesthetic decor. A few rocks, a bit of cork bark to hide under, some fake plants etc, go wild. Don’t be too disappointed however when your giant African land snails go and undo all of your hard work by trashing their enclosure. They are heavy bodied and rather cumbersome so are likely to regularly turnover the contents of their enclosure. You should also remember this if you decide to include live plants in there, if they don’t eat them they’ll probably uproot them.
Giant African Land Snail by joysaphine (flickr)
Temperature and humidity
Unless you live in a particularly cold climate giant African land snails generally don’t require supplementary heat. Offering heat will however result in increased metabolism so faster growth and faster reproduction (although as you will learn faster reproduction probably isn’t quite as desirable as it sounds). You will also find your snails are far more active in warmer temperatures.
Personally I do not offer supplementary heating for my giant African land snails but they reside in my bug room which is generally quite warm. If you have a cold house a heat mat is a good idea.
Humidity is easy to maintain by giving your giant African land snails a good misting once a day – you will probably find that this action stimulates feeding too as the snails seek moisture.
Feeding giant african land snails
Giant African land snails are not fussy when it comes to food and will eat a variety of fruit and vegetables. Offer a variety of leafy vegetables, ie dark leafy lettuces (such as romaine lettuce etc), cabbage, spinach, etc. Cucumber is also very popular, as are apples, carrots, banana (remember banana spoils very quickly), grapes, peaches, plums, melon, etc. Use your imagination and try to offer a varied diet.
Supplementary to their diet of fruit you need to offer calcium which is important in shell growth and renewal. The easiest way to do this is offer a cuttlefish bone which you simply leave in the enclosure and the snails will help themselves as and when they require it. Cuttlefish bones are readily available from most pet shops as they are used by bird keepers to add calcium to the diet of popular bird pet species.
Giant African Land Snail by lilspikey (flickr)
Breeding giant african land snails
Giant African land snails are, shall we say, very prolific.
Giant African land snails are hermaphrodites, that is to say they are both male and female ie one individual has both male and female reproductory organs. This combined with their high egg production means that when giant African snails breed they do so extremely quickly and extremely efficiently. Some species (namely A.fulica) can reportedly lay 300 eggs in one sitting, however 10-50 is more common.
I would advise that you destroy all eggs as you find them. All you have to do is look on any reptile forum or indeed ebay and you will see that there are countless people trying desperately to sell their eggs and babies in a saturated market. There are simply too many eggs already and I think as a responsible keeper you should destroy any that you can’t secure homes for as soon as you find the eggs. Of course if you have a friend who wants some, or you plan on keeping more yourself then you should keep the eggs and raise them, but all other eggs should be destroyed.
As an interesting side note, the eggs make fantastic food for young egg eating snails so if you know anybody who keeps/breeds them you might find a home for some of your eggs! The babies also make great food for certain species of skinks (ie blue tongued skinks) so if you know anybody who keeps any skinks which are partial to snails you might want to offer them the eggs.
I would suggest scouring your tank once a week in search of eggs, make sure you dig around and look for them (they are great at hiding their eggs from us pesky keepers!). The best way to dispatch of them is simply put them in the freezer for a few hours or to crush them. If you have a
lot of eggs you will probably find the former option is the best.
Giant African Land Snail eggs by Bill Hails (flickr)
It can be a little upsetting initially having to kill off the eggs but if you don’t you will soon find yourself over run with hundreds or even thousands of babies which you simply cannot find homes for.
Raising Giant African Land Snail babies
For the ones which you wish to raise you should separate them from the parents and keep them on damp substrate similar to that which you keep the adults on. They will take 10-28 days to hatch depending upon temperatures. Upon hatching you should feed them soft leafy vegetables similar to which the adults eat. Personally I find the babies are really partial to cucumber and dark lettuces which have had a liberal spraying of water. Make sure you offer the babies cuttlefish bone as you do with the adults as calcium is extremely important for shell development.
The babies will grow by roughly 1cm shell size a month and they are able to reproduce once they are about 3.5cm (so only a few months old!). It is easy to see how people can quickly become overrun with snails isn’t it?
Giant African land snails are very easy to keep and make fantastic pets for children and as group projects at schools, nurseries etc. They require a simple set up with an earth based substrate, a diet of fruit and veg with supplementary calcium. They reproduce extremely easily and any eggs for which homes cannot be found should be destroyed before their numbers get out of control.
Giant African Land Snail by gershamabob (flickr)