Giant African Land Snail Care
The giant African land snail – usually just referred to as GALS – is the classic pet of many a classroom, a perennial favourite and often the gateway species to exotic pet keeping. Simple to keep and impressive as an adult, they are an ideal first species for those who are interested in invertebrates, but have no experience of their husbandry.
Their original range of Kenya and Tanzania has expanded massively, as they have become introduced to a vast range of tropical countries where they have become a major agricultural pest. They have an enormous variety of colours and shell patterns, but the commonest is a mid brown shell with paler wavy lines and a greyish body colour. Albinos are quite common, some of which have a normal coloured shell and a white body, and some of which are white with a pale yellow shell. They can weigh up to 600g!
One of the reasons that they have become such a terrible scourge of agricultural communities is their toughness – they are capable of thriving in a huge range of temperatures and humidities, and can both hibernate (to escape cold) and aestivate (to escape heat) to wait until more favourable conditions come along. Their diet is pretty eclectic too; they will eat pretty much anything, vegetation wise. They like fruit, soft leafy greens, stems, just about anything that a garden snail would eat is suitable for their larger cousins. They need lots of calcium, too, as that shell is heavy!
When sourcing your new pet, it’s worth bearing in mind that in our experience, very small newly hatched snails often don’t survive being moved, and very large adult snails don’t cope with it well either. Small juveniles – between 2 and 10cm – seem to be the best size to take on, as they’re out of the delicate baby stage, but still have a lot of growing to do.
Housing is simple, too. As long as they have an enclosure that is double their body length to move around and a deep enough substrate to burrow in they’re happy, although as with all species bigger is always going to be better. They can be candidates for a full bioactive system, as there are live plants that they find distasteful and they mix very well with the other micro fauna that shares the substrate. Give them a source of calcium in their enclosure, either cuttlefish bone or blocks of calcium, as their shells need a lot of calcium to grow properly.
Breeding can be an issue. Although each snail is a hermaphrodite (both sexes in one body), they cannot fertilise themselves. They need to share genetic material with another snail to lay fertile eggs, so as long as your snail has lived alone you won’t need to worry about lots of baby snails popping out of the substrate on a regular basis. However, if you have more than one snail you will definitely get lots of eggs. They can store genetic material within their bodies for up to two years, so if you have a snail that has lived with another snail (both with a shell length of over 6cm) within two years you could still be overrun with babies! They can lay 30 to 1000 white to yellow eggs buried in the substrate, up to 6 times a year – and yes, quite frequently all of them hatch. In warmer weather it’s worth checking the substrate for eggs every other day if you have several snails living together.
GALS also appreciate an occasional warm bath, as odd as that may seem. Just use enough warm water to come halfway up the shell, place your snail in the water and watch them closely. This is also a really useful way of rehydrating them if you’ve discovered your snail has sealed the opening of its shell with a hard, chalky substance due to conditions being outside their comfortable range. A nice warm soak will soon have your snail emerging from its shell!