Among the various species of African giant land snails, Archachatina marginata are probably the cutest and the most fascinating pets! They are lovely creatures and amazing animals for keepers of any level.
Even though Archachatina marginata are relatively clean, quiet, peaceful, inexpensive, and reasonably easy to care for but do not let it fool you! They are still a big responsibility. Archachatina marginata are long-lived animals and they also require a proper environment in order to stay healthy.
Owning a pet land snail can be a very worthwhile and unique experience. So, if you are looking to add Archachatina marginata to your family, it is important to do the research on how to take care of them in order to offer it a safe environment.
In this care guide, I discuss everything you need to know about these African giant land snails (Archachatina marginata) including their behavior, life span, growth, feeding, diet, handling, development, and much more.
Quick Notes about Archachatina Marginata
||GALS, African giant snail, Giant African land snail, Big black snail, Banana rasp snail, and West African snail|
|Scientific Name||Archachatina marginata|
|Tank size (minimum)||5 gallons (~20 liters)|
|Size||15 – 18 cm (~6 – 7 inches)|
|Optimal Temperature||25 – 28 C (77 – 82 F)|
|Optimal Humidity||70 – 80%|
|Substrate||Deep enough to bury|
|Life span||up to 10 years|
|Color Form||Brown, dark, and cream/yellow striped shell|
Natural Habitat of Archachatina Marginata
Archachatina marginata are commonly found in West Africa (Southern part of Nigeria, Cameroon to the Democratic Republic of the Congo).
These snails live in dense high forests where the tropical weather and vegetation conditions are most favorable for their proliferation.
Note: Interestingly, but nowadays Archachatina marginata were also seen in the Caribbean (Martinique). Most likely that is because they got there as “pets”.
|Important: Unlike Achatina fulica species that is a restricted (banned) species in some US states due to their potential to become invasive, Archachatina marginata has not been banned yet (nonetheless, it is better to check your state laws before purchasing anyway). However, if Archachatina marginata continues to spread, these snails could potentially be a problem for people from Cuba to the United States.
That is why – NEVER release Giant African Land Snail into the wild.
Description of Archachatina Marginata
A fully grown snail can weight up to 500 g (a little bit more than 1 pound).
They are characterized by broadly ovate shells, with regular conical spires. Their shells are thick and have 6 – 7 whorls spiral with a slightly flattened apex.
The shells have a brownish-yellow background with fairly uniformly arranged bands and zigzag lines or sometimes spots that usually have dark-brown or reddish-brown coloration.
Their shell is less pointed than the Achatina species, the roundness
is especially obvious in young animals.
Archachatina marginata has a pretty muscular ventral foot. The foot (or the propodium) is extremely mobile and shaped like a wave, which plays a role in climbing, burrowing, and food capture and handling. As the snail glides, it leaves a little bit of a slippery mucus-like trail behind.
Archachatina marginata species has two ecotypes-normal skin (albino or tan to ash grey).
Do you know that normal skinned snails recorded better growth performance and growth rate (3.432x) than albino snails (2.166x)?
According to the study, albinism is a hereditary deficiency of pigmentation which may involve the entire body or parts of the body. It is believed to be caused by an enzyme deficiency involving the metabolism of melanin during prenatal development.
There are two main types of albinism in Archachatina marginata snails:
- albino shelled and
So, the lack of melanin pigment on the skin of albino snails makes them be sensitive to light and heat which might possibly influence their feeding pattern and, as a result, their growth rate.
Interesting facts about Archachatina Marginata:
Lifespan of the Archachatina Marginata
Healthy, genetically-strong Archachatina marginata will live at least 4 to 6 years on average, and up to 10 years with exceptional care. The wide range of reported life spans is a result of different habitat conditions.
For the first 6 months, they grow really fast, after that the rate at which they grow is reduced and is not as pronounced as before.
Behavior of Archachatina Marginata
Archachatina marginata snails are nocturnal animals. Thus, their feeding and reproduction activities increase at night (2 to 3 hours after the onset of darkness). They spend most of the daytime under stones, soil, or litter of decaying organic matter.
Biologists believe that nocturnal behavior is a form of adaptation. In the wild, this type of behavior helps the snails to reduce the body moisture lost common during the day.
These snails are non-aggressive, solitary, and docile by nature. They do not care much about other snails unless they decide to mate. However, even when they can be also very picky (read below).
Archachatina marginata species is pretty skittish and gets scared easily. They prefer a calm environment and do not like changes. So, when you do maintenance, it is recommended to put everything as it was before.
Difference between Achachatina sp. and Achatina sp.
Even though African giant land snails are a somewhat unorthodox pet, more and more hobbyists are giving crab keeping a try. The only problem is that different species may look a bit similar to an untrained eye.
Mistaken Identities is one of the main reason, why people cannot provide proper care for these snails.
|Achachatina sp.||Achatina sp.|
|They have a V-shaped (“crocodile-like”) tail.||Normal shape.|
|They produce less mucus.||More mucus|
|Their body feels more solid||Feels like jelly.|
|The skin feels rough to the touch as if divided into small cells.||The skin cells are not that prominent.|
Color Variations of Archachatina Marginata
In general, this species has a dark body with a brownish-yellow shell. However, in the pet trade, it is possible to find different color variations such as:
Archachatina marginata var. ovum (Dark foot and Light foot)
- Their foot has a cream shade.
- The tentacles are more of a gray-blue shade.
- Columella has apricot color.
- Shell is mostly brown to yellowish.
- Shell is larger in diameter compared to suturalis.
Note: In simple terms, columella runs along the right side of the shell opening when you hold the snail with its head towards you.
Columella is clearly visible in the adult snails. If you are holding a small snail, in order to see it, you need to carefully and slightly slide the snail’s mantle with your finger towards its body. This should be done with extreme caution so as not to injure the snail.
Archachatina marginata var. ovum acromelanic
- Their foot has a white color.
- The tentacles are more of a gray-blue shade.
Archachatina marginata var. ovum (albino body)
- Their foot has a white color.
- The tentacles are white as well.
Archachatina marginata var. suturalis
- The apex of the shell is pinkish.
- The foot is cream-colored.
- The tentacles are more of a gray-blue shade.
- Columella has an apricot color.
Archachatina marginata var. suturalis albino
- The foot is white.
- The tentacles are white.
Archachatina marginata var. suturalis (dark)
- The foot is dark.
- The tentacles are dark.
- These snails have a significantly darker shell.
Archachatina marginata var. Eduardi
- Columella is a mix of slightly bluish and white-pearl coloration.
- They do not grow too big. The average size of these snails is usually about 3 – 4 inches (8 – 10 cm).
- The shell is light yellow in color, with evenly distributed stripes and some brown spots on it.
Archachatina marginata var. candefacta
- Columella is white.
- The apex of the shell is yellowish or white.
- The foot can be creamy, dark, or brown.
- The shell is mostly yellow.
- They also do not grow too big. The average size of these snails is usually about 3 – 4 inches (8 – 10 cm).
Feeding Archachatina Marginata
They are nature’s natural scavengers. As nocturnal animals, they most actively seek nourishment in the dark.
According to the observation, even though the diets were presented to the animal around 5 p.m., feeding did not start until late in the night around 10 p.m., and continues until 1 a.m.
In their natural habitat, these snails feed on a wide variety of foods:
- fallen fruit,
- rotting vegetation,
- decaying wood,
- leaf litter,
- decaying organic,
- dead animals,
- grasses, etc.
However, the mere fact that these snails can eat almost anything they come across does not mean that you can give the leftovers from your table. On the contrary, DO NOT do that!
Do not give Archachatina marginata any food with salt. Avoid fried and sour products as well.
For example, under no circumstances do not give them orange, lemon, grapefruit, pinapples, mandarin, etc. Acid can cause swelling of their internal organs and they might die.
Snails need a well-balanced diet:
- Vegetables and Fruits
Balanced food will result in better egg production, fertility, and hatchability. It is essential for optimal reproductive output in snails.
For example, according to another experiment, when Archachatina marginata were only fed with roughage/natural plant material, they had the least final weight and weight gain. Even though, it was accompanied by the highest feed intake across!
This is a clear indication of nutritional inadequacy because, despite the high feed intake, it could not meet its requirement for growth.
Vegetables and Fruits
Archachatina marginata will enjoy vegetables such as:
- apples (not sour!),
- cabbage of all sorts,
Always give them a variety of foods, so that they get proper nutrients.
Keep in mind that some types of food that they may like the most. For example, there are multiple reports that bananas and cucumbers may be addictive for land snails. So, given a choice, they often prefer them to anything else.
If they get used to a certain food, they may refuse to eat anything else. Therefore, the diet needs to be diversified.
Do not forget that protein can be animal-based and vegetable-based. So, which one should we give the land snails?
The answer is simple – all types of protein.
Even though, in terms of components, we will not see a big difference between animal and plant proteins, the ratio of amino acids is different.
Be careful and do not overfeed them with the protein. Two or three times a week can be more than enough.
Things that you can give include:
- boiled chicken, fish, beef, etc.
- fish / shrimp/ crab flakes and
- dog food (check out ingredients before!).
According to the observations, for the best growth, feeds should contain protein at a level of about 20% of the diet.
Calcium is absolutely crucial to land snail’s shell, cellular function, and overall health.
A calcium deficiency can cause weakness and crack in the shell of your beloved pet, and when this happens, the snail becomes susceptible to diseases, heat and dehydration.
98% of the shell is made up of calcium carbonate.
Calcium can be found in such products as:
- wonder shells,
- oyster shells,
- insects, etc.
Tip: Cuttlefish bone should be in the tank all the time if you want to keep Archachatina marginata strong and happy.
You can also read my article “Snails and Shell Problems. Causes and How to Fix”.
How often should We Change the Food?
Archachatina marginata can eat a lot but they are still slow-eaters. Therefore, you can easily leave their food in the tank for 24 hours before removing it.
Just make sure that whatever they do not consume in one day is removed to prevent moles.
Feeding Rules and Tips:
- Leave their food for 24 hours before removing it. Otherwise, it will rot and mold very quickly. In addition, it will attract vermin and/or diseases.
- With any food that you feed your land snails make sure that you wash it thoroughly first. The point is that it might have been exposed or treated with some sort of pesticides.
- Do not feed them anything, acid, sour, grilled, or fried. It is not good for them.
- They are not going to enjoy onion.
- Bell pepper is a bad choice as well. It will get spoiled in the snail’s humid warm tank in a very short amount of time.
- Be careful with everything you get for salt content.
- For best results, give Archachatina marginata food before nightfall.
Keeping and Housing Archachatina Marginata
African giant land snails are not high-maintenance pets. But if you want to have a happy and healthy snail as long as it is possible, it is important to give it everything it needs, including proper care.
Even though these snails are pretty hardy and can survive some extreme situations, there is a big difference between thriving and surviving after all.
First of all, you will need to choose an enclosure that provides the appropriate levels of heat and humidity.
There are several options here.
1. Aquarium for fish. Lots of us are also fish or shrimp keepers, therefore, it makes aquariums one of the most popular options.
|It is made of ecological material (glass).||There will be problems with ventilation|
|Good for humidity.|
|Very easy to buy.|
|It is made of ecological material (glass).||Some models have problems with ventilation|
|Good for humidity.||High cost and weight|
|Some models have good ventilation|
3. Plastic container.
|Cheap.||Plastic is not the most ecological material, especially in hot temperature.|
|Good for humidity.|
Note: Even if there are no holes in the container, we can easily do those ourselves. Drill a few small holes on two opposite sides of the walls (closer to the base and closer to the upper edge).
Important: Archachatina marginata are master-escapists and unless prevented from doing so they will quickly wander all over your house. So, any enclosure should be escape-proof.
Tank Size (Enclosure):
There is a lot of conflicting information regarding this question.
On the one hand, some people think that because these snails are big they will also require huge tanks. On the other hand, some snail keepers use very small tanks and say that they did not have any problem with that.
Well, the results of the experiment showed that several factors can greatly influence the growth of land snails and population density is one of them.
Four different stocking densities of 5, 10, 15, and 20 snails per 50 L (or 12 gallons). The cage with 15 snails per cage recorded the best growth performance in relation to weight gain, shell length gain as well as shell circumference gain.
|Parameters||5 snails||10 snails||15 snails||50 snails|
|Weight gain||3||2||1st place||4|
|Shell gain||2||3||1st place||4|
Note: In this experiment, researchers used 100 Archachatina marginata with an average weight of 57.76 g (three months old).
As we can see these snails love compact environments – not too big and not too small!
Based on these results and also the results from professional breeders of these snails, we can have a table of the optimal tank size depending on the age of the snails.
|Large Archachatina marginata (Ovum, Suturalis, Iclerica):|
|1 month old||6 – 8 snails||5 – 8 L (1 – 2 gallons)|
|2 months old||4 – 6 snails||12 – 16 L (3 – 4 gallons)|
|3 months old||4 – 6 snails||20 – 25 L (5 – 6 gallons)|
|adults||1 snail||20 – 30 L (5 – 7 gallons)|
|Medium-sized Archachatina sp. (Benin, Ventricosa, Degneri, Puylaerti, Papyracea):|
|1 month old||6 – 8 snails||5 – 6 L (1 – 1.5 gallons)|
|2 months old||4 – 6 snails||10 – 12 L (2.5 – 3 gallons)|
|3 months old||4 – 6 snails||16 – 20 L (4 – 5 gallons)|
|adults||1 snail||20 – 25 L (5 – 6 gallons)|
|Small-sized Archachatina sp. (Egregia, Eduardi, Candefacta, Grevillei, Papyracea):|
|1 month old||6 – 8 snails||4 – 5 L (1 gallon)|
|2 months old||4 – 6 snails||8 – 10 L (2 – 2.5 gallons)|
|3 months old||4 – 6 snails||12 – 16 L (3 – 4 gallons)|
|adults||1 snail||15 – 20 L (4 – 5 gallons)|
Generally, we can use the following formula:
(Size of the snail * 2) + (liters or gallons = the size of the snail) = volume
For example, let’s say we have 8 cm ( about 3 inches snail).
8*2 + 8 = 24 liters (about 6 gallons)
Substrate and Decorations
The terrarium should have a proper substrate and decorations for the Archachatina marginata, so that they can have their individual spaces if there is more than one snail.
The best options for the substrate are coconut fiber, soil, and peat.
Personally, I find coconut fiber to be the most universal substrate because it is easy to prepare, clean, and it has the ability to retain moisture and contribute to humidity levels.
If you are planning to use peat as a substrate, it is not recommended to buy the peat if it has pH low than 7.0. The problem is that acid-based peat can leads to burns in snails.
Be careful with the garden soil or soil for flowers. Almost all of them have a pretty low pH and contain fertilizers. The point is that when snails feed on debris that remains in the soil, they also eat a little bit of the substrate as well. Eventually, Archachatina marginata will get poisoned.
Tip: Soils that are too acidic might be neutralized with lime.
|DO NOT ever use gravel, sand, and sawdust! These substrates are dangerous to the Archachatina species.
Important: Regarding decoration, do not use stones, glass, ceramic – Archachatina marginata are big and heavy snails, if they fall they can easily break their shell.
How to Prepare the Coconut Fiber
- boil for 20-30 minutes to evaporate substances poisonous to the snails,
- rinse and wash it with clean water,
- squeeze it to remove the water.
- It is safe to use it.
How deep should the substrate be?
African giant land snails are burrowers. So, the absolute minimum depth needed varies between snail sizes.
Generally, the substrate should be deep enough to accommodate your Archachatina snail’s need to burrow plus 2 – 3 cm (1 inch) more.
How Often the Substrate Should Be Changed?
Eventually, the substrate will become fouled with mucus and droppings. In addition, there can be some chemical changes as well. All these things will increase the chances of disease development.
Therefore, the substrate in GALS enclosure must be changed at least once every 3 months.
As cold-blooded animals, GALS are sensitive to changes in atmospheric humidity and temperature. Archachatina marginata prefers warm temperatures 25 – 28 C (77 – 82 F). However, it does not mean that they will enjoy a hot temperature.
According to the study, at a temperature >30 C (86 F), there was a sharp decrease in the body weight gain of Archachatina marginata.
So, be very careful here!
For example, a heat lamp can dry out your tank. If you use an under-the-tank heater, it can overheat your substrate and burn your snail.
The best (safest) option will be to put the heater to the side of the tank.
In their natural surroundings, snails go into dormancy during the dry season. That is why humidity is essential to the survival of your Archachatina marginata. It should never be less than 60%. The optimal Humidity level for GALS is 70 – 80 %.
Humidity levels should be monitored with a hygrometer.
Lots of time you can see people using misting to increase the humidity level. The main problem with misting is flooding. GALS need damp, not wet, environments. They breathe air and may drown in overly wet surroundings.
If your humidity levels stay too high or too low, it can be changed by adding more moisture, less ventilation, or by adding more ventilation.
This is normally a trial and error process, so expect it to take some adjusting to get it perfect.
Humidity and Thermometer (links to Amazon):
- Zoo Med™Reptile Terrarium Digital Thermometer,
- Zoo Med Labs Digital Thermometer Humidity Gauge,
- AcuRite 00613 Indoor Thermometer & Hygrometer with Humidity Gauge
Do GALS Need Water Dish?
No, there is no need to have a water dish in their tank.
Even though land snails also need water (this is a fact) they derive most of their water requirements from the soil and food.
Nonetheless, if you still think otherwise – use only shallow dishes (otherwise Archachatina marginata may drown) or a watersoaked sponge.
Tip: Sponges in the water dishes can also help keep the humidity up in the tank. Unfortunately, the downside is that the sponge becomes a source of all kinds of nasty bacteria, which is not good for the snails. Therefore, do not forget to clean and/or change them.
Mating and Breeding Archachatina Marginata
Archachatina marginata are selective in their mating partners and sometimes uninterested in mating with other snails of the same species.
They reach maturity at about 10 – 12 months old. Although GALS are hermaphrodites, they cannot self-fertilize. Snails must fertilize each other simultaneously before they lay eggs.
The eggs of Archachatina marginata are relatively large (17 x 12 mm or 0.5 x 0.5 inches). They are not prolific breeders like Achatina sp. Their egg clutches are small (4 – 18 eggs).
In most cases, they lay egg clutches in round-shaped holes (2-5 cm or 1-2 inches deep in the substrate). Occasionally they can lay them on the surface or at the base of plants and wood.
Optimum density for breeding snails is 6-7 snails per 1 m2 (3 ft.).
If Archachatina marginata are very densely packed, they may not breed at all.
In addition, high-density populations affect the growth rate and even the size of the snails! They develop into smaller adults and lay fewer clutches of eggs and fewer eggs per clutch.
Depending on the temperature, the incubation period is around 4 weeks. Shorter incubation periods were observed when the temperature was high, while low temperature increased incubation periods.
After hatching, baby snails remain underground for 2-5 days more.
The recipe for healthy Archachatina marginata is simple.
- Keep them warm with a few inches of moist substrate.
- Do not forget about moisture and
- Change their diet from time to time.
They are low maintenance pets and easy to care for once you understand their needs and preferences. Having them as pets can be exciting but it is one big responsibility. After all, they can live for many years.
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- Observations on the Reproduction, Growth and Longevity of a Laboratory Colony of
Arachachatina (Calachatina) Marginata (Swainson) Subspecies Ovum. The potential of peels of mango, plantain, cocoyam and pawpaw as diets for growing snails (Archachatina marginata).
- Growth Performance Of African Giant La nd Snails (Archachatina Marginata) Fed With Feed Formulated With Different Calcium Sources. Malaysian Journal of Sustainable Agriculture (MJSA). DOI : http://doi.org/10.26480/mjsa.01.2018.01.04.
- Preliminary investigation of growth performance of giant land snail (Archachatina marginata) fed with selected household wastes. African Journal of Agricultural Research Vol. 3 (9), pp. 647-649, September, 2008.
- Effects of Breed on Reproductive Efficiency of Two Most Popular Snails [Archachatina marginata (S) and Achatina achatina (L)] in Nigeria. Journal of Agricultural Science; Vol. 4, No. 8; 2012. ISSN 1916-9752 E-ISSN 1916-9760.
- Performance, proximate and mineral analyses of African giant land snail (Archachatina marginata) fed different nitrogen sources. African Journal of Biotechnology Vol. 3 (8), pp. 412-417, August 2004.
- Effect of stocking density on the growth and haemolymph biochemical value of Archachatina marginata. African Journal of Biotechnology Vol. 8 (12), pp. 2908-2910, 17 June 2006.
- Comparative Analysis of the Growth Performance and Haemolymph Biochemical Properties of Normal and Albino Giant Land Snail- Archachatina marginata. Ethiopian Journal of Environmental Studies and Management Vol. 4 No.2 2011. DOI: 4314/ejesm.v4i2.11
- Observations on Some Climatic Variables and Dietary Influence on the Performance of Cultivated African Giant Land Snail (Archachatina marginata): Notes and Records. Pakistan Journal of Nutrition 3 (6): 362-364, 2004.
- Reproductive performance of laying snails (Archachatina marginata) fed on roughages and different concentrate mixes. Jimoh and Akinola Bulletin of the National Research Centre (2020) 44:118. https://doi.org/10.1186/s42269-020-00378-w.
- Effect of diets on egg characteristics of Archachatina marginata Swainson. Proceedings of 3rd Wildlife Society of Nigeria Conference, Ibadan 2019.
- Snail Farming in West Africa. Agromisa, August 2008