Garden Snail Profile and Care Guide

Garden Snail (Helix aspersa Muller) Profile and Care Guide main

Helix aspersa Muller, commonly known as the Garden snail, the Brown Garden snail, or the Brown grape snail, is the species of land snail most used as a food resource and as a component of dermatological substances (cosmetic creams).

Garden snails have become extremely popular due to their high prolificacy and ability to adapt to temperate climates, presenting a varied polymorphism in its shell: shape, size, color, and thickness of its shell.

If you are thinking of breeding Helix aspersa, or simply want to learn more about these land snails, you have come to the right place. In this guide, I gathered everything that is currently known about Garden snails, how to care for them even in small tank setups.

Quick Notes about Garden Snail

Name Garden snail
Other Names
Brown garden snail, Brown grape snail, The Gray Garden snail, Small Gray snail, Petit gris or la Zigrinata
Scientific Name Helix aspersa Müller
Type
Terrestrial
Tank size (minimum) any
Keeping Easy
Breeding Easy
Size 1.2 – 1.4 inches (3 – 3.5 cm)
Optimal Temperature 60 – 74°F (15 to 24 °C)
Optimal Humidity 70 – 90%
Substrate Deep enough to bury
Diet Herbivore / detritivore
Temperament Peaceful
Life span up to 5 years
Color Form Brown to gray

Interesting fact: According to the study, snail mucus is composed of bioactive compounds that have different biological properties for the treatment of some skin problems. Therefore, slime from the Helix aspersa is used in many pharmaceutical and cosmetic products.

Distribution of Garden Snail

Helix aspersa Muller was described in 1774 by the Danish naturalist Otto Friedrich Müller, based on specimens found in Italy.

This snail species is considered to be native to the French and Spanish coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. Nowadays, these little snails are present almost all over the world due to intentional distribution as an edible delicacy and accidentally with vegetables and fruits that were imported from the Mediterranean countries.

Note: Helix aspersa Muller is the most popular snail species on the market. It takes around 70% of the world market.

Description of Garden Snail

Garden Snail (Helix aspersa Muller) Profile and Care GuideHelix aspersa Muller is the terrestrial gastropod mollusk.

This is a relatively small snail. In the adult phase, its size ranges from 2 – 4 cm (0.8 – 1.2 inches) with an average diameter of about 1.2 – 1.4 inches (3 – 3.5 cm) for a weight of about 0.5 – 0.6 oz (15 – 17 g).

The shell has 4 – 5 flattened whorls and may acquire a grey hue.

Interesting fact: Generally, these snails almost do not grow when they start reproducing and after the development of a thickened lip at the shell aperture, the so-called peristome.

Lifespan of Garden Snail

Under optimal conditions and proper care, the average estimated longevity of Helix aspersa is between 2 and 5 years.

Typical Behavior of Garden Snail

These snails are absolutely non-aggressive and docile by nature. Garden snails have only their operculum and shell for protection from aggressors.

They live in a colonial culture and can be considered social.

Helix aspersa is a highly nocturnal species. Generally, these snails emerge from their hiding places to rehydrate and forage after dark and are capable of substantial active movements.

Once they had fed, snails returned to the resting area, repeating this routine several times during the night.

This nocturnal behavior is very common for grazing invertebrates and is mainly associated with attempting to avoid visual predators whilst feeding.

These land snails are classified as secondary burrowers. It means that they do not rely on burrows and do not spend all of their time there.

However, if the environment is not optimal (for example, if the temperature drops below the comfort range), Garden snails can burrow and fall into hibernation.  When Garden snails burrow, they do not move under the substrate.

Features:

  • Social: Yes
  • Active: Yes
  • Peaceful: Yes
  • Burrowers: Yes 

Diet of Garden Snail

Helix aspersa has traditionally been regarded as generalist herbivores taking a wide variety of plants from the environment. This species is capable of eating a wide variety of living and dead plants and of adjusting its diet to the availability of food items.

Nonetheless, according to multiple studies, Garden snails also showed different levels of preference for the different components of their diet.

For example, in observations of snails feeding upon 24 plant species, the most frequent foods in the diet of Helix aspersa were:

  • Fragaria vesca (17.28%),
  • Gramineae (15.96%),
  • Trifolium angustifolium (12.24%),
  • Hieracium pilosella (10.2%),
  • Eryngium campestre (7.32%) and
  • Carlina corymbosa (7.2%).

Does it mean that these 6 plants are the only food they will eat? No, it does not. The diversity of the snails’ diet also showed seasonal variation with the maximum in the autumn months.

In captivity, Helix aspersa is often fed on leaves of various cereals, vegetables and fruits such as:

  • lettuce leaves,
  • cabbage,
  • cucumbers (one of the most favorite snail food),
  • carrots,
  • bamboo twigs,
  • onions,
  • fruits and leaves of apple,
  • apricot,
  • artichoke,
  • barley,
  • beans,
  • cloves,
  • cauliflower,
  • celery,
  • celery root,
  • clover,
  • dandelion,
  • hibiscus,
  • lily,
  • magnolia,
  • mulberry,
  • nasturtium,
  • nettle,
  • oat grains,
  • parsley,
  • peach,
  • ripe pears,
  • petunias,
  • plums, potatoes (raw and cooked),
  • pumpkin,
  • radishes,
  • sorrel,
  • spinach,
  • wheat, etc.

Note: Feeding Garden snails with organic supplies implies an increase significant in labor costs, caused by the food supply, removal of waste, and constant cleaning.

Calcium

Important: Like all other species of snails, Helix aspersa love to eat calcium-rich food.

Calcium plays a huge role in snails. Calcium is needed for several vital life processes in snails, the most obvious being the formation of shells. The shell of a garden snail is basically made of calcium carbonate.

Therefore, supplementing them with calcium is a necessity if you want them to be happy and healthy.

Calcium can be found in

  • cuttlebones,
  • eggshells,
  • natural chalk
  • wonder shells,
  • oyster shells,
  • kale,
  • broccoli,
  • spinach,etc.

Note: Be careful with mineral stones. They can have salt, so check the ingredients, if it is possible.

For better and faster consumption, you need to ground them to dust and use them as supplements during feeding. Calcium should not contain harmful substances to harm snails.

Tip: Mix calcium with wet bran or mash potatoes. This will prevent it from rotting on contact with the ground.

 Foods to Avoid

Do not ever give Helix aspersa:

  • acidic,
  • salty,
  • spicy,
  • fried,
  • smoked,
  • sweets (like candy),
  • flour (including bread).

Snails also avoid plants that release chemicals or have protective hairs on the stem, etc.

Note: According to the study, Garden snails are able to detect concentrations of Zn in the diet and reduce their food intake if contamination is too high.

Rules of Diet in Captivity for Garden Snails

  • Snails usually prefer juicy leaves and vegetables to dry ones.
  • Fruits are often perishable products that go into rot quickly. To prevent contamination, leftover feed should be removed at least weekly.
  • The recommended diet: 20% wheat bran and 80% fruit and plant material.
  • Snails need diversity in food. Do not give them the same food all the time. Change their diet periodically.
  • Snails should always have food at their disposal, especially, young ones. They need a lot of food to grow. Without food, they will lose more than a third of their weight before they starve to death. Generally, it takes 8 to 12 weeks. However, in the hibernated state they can survive without food for almost a year.
  • Snails should always have water. Depending on the temperature, without daily rehydration, they will lose 10-15% of their mass in 2-3 days.
  • Calcium must be added at least once a week. Especially, if it is not available in sufficient quantities in the soil.

You can also read my article:

Keeping and Housing Garden Snail

Helix aspersa is an adaptable species and can thrive in many situations. At the same time, their soft tissues are also highly susceptible to any kind of contamination because their skin has the capability to bio-accumulate metal contaminants.

Therefore, to successfully breed these terrestrial gastropods we still need to address their core needs. Here are some care guidelines to help you out.

Enclosure Type (Tank Size)

Enclosure type will depend on how many snails and where you are going to keep and breed Helix aspersa.

For example, you can easily start with the rearing plastic boxes as small as 8x8x4 inches (20x20x10 cm) for up to 20 snails. The boxes should be translucent (not transparent) to avoid too much light.

Note: Snail’s growth becomes better rearing in opaque rather than transparent containers in a long-day photoperiod.

In mass production, these boxes are often placed on a 2 mm gauge fiber glass mesh on top of 5 mm galvanized steel slatted shelves to facilitate ventilation.

Note: In nature, 20-30 garden snails can be easily found per 10 square feet (1 square meter). At the same time, keep in mind that, according to the studies, when reared at high densities, young Garden snails feed less, show less shell growth, and have increased mortality. It is suggested that these effects are linked to reduced activity. Juveniles show reduced activity in the presence of adults or their mucus.

Important: Ideally, the boxes should be cleaned daily to avoid the negative effects of excreta, mucus, and high population density.

Keeping Garden Snail in Open Areas

Another way to keep Garden snails is to keep them in open areas. Of course, it can be done only if environmental conditions allow it.

Many snail breeders use wooden pallets for that. Wooden pallets provide a lot of surface area for food and protection from the sun.

Tip: Helix aspersa prefer pine wooden pallets over any other type.

How can we keep snails in one place?

This is one of the main problems when keeping garden snails in open areas. There are several ways to do that:

  • Put some salt into a special furrow along the edges (or use bandages soaked in salt) or around the perimeter.
  • Use an electric fence to contain them. 4-12 volts will be more than enough. The wires should be spaced 2-4 mm apart so the snail will touch them at the same time. Each wire carries an opposite charge (“+” and “-“). 
  • Bend the top of the fences inward in half a circle to limit the movement of Garden snails.
  • Snails do not like copper. Use a copper strip at the top of the fence.

Substrate:

Garden snails prefer limestone or calcareous soils to facilitate the supply of calcium which they use for the formation and hardening of the shell. If you have any doubt, add some limestone to the ground. Calcium can be added to the soil in amounts up to 10 pounds per 100 square feet.

The acidity of the soil is extremely important as well. Ideally, the soil should have a neutral acidity (pH 7).

Note: If the soil is too acidic, you can neutralize it with lime to make it suitable.

The soil should not have too much sand or too much clay. The point is that Garden snails are not strong enough to dig hard and dry clay whereas sand cannot maintain enough moisture for a long time.

It will be great if your soil contains 20-40% organic. Basically, the soil should be similar to a garden soil.

The parent snail digs a nest in the soil ranging from 1-3 inches in depth to deposit its eggs. Therefore, the substrate depth should be appropriate for that.

Temperature:

The optimal temperature range for Helix aspersa is between 60 – 74°F (15 to 24 °C).

Lower temperatures will decrease the activity of the snails. If the temperature drops below 43°F (or 6°C), Garden snails fall into hibernation.

Helix aspersa is freezing intolerant. These snails can briefly survive some ice formation in their body. Nonetheless, eventually, if the temperature drops below 32 °F (0 °C) death occurs by freezing the tissues.

Important: Recent studies proved that for Garden snails freezing tolerance abilities also vary converse with size.

Indoor hibernation of adult snails can be done only in a controlled environment. Breeders of

Helix aspersa set temperature range between 36–43°F (2–6°C) and humidity around 70–80%. Such conditions allow at least 80% of snails successfully survive winter.

The snails easily hibernated for 100–110 days.

Humidity:

Helix aspersa is used to live in high-humidity environments and should not be kept in dry enclosures. Garden snails develop optimally in a humid subtropical climate.

The snails maintain a constant balance between the water content in their tissues and environmental humidity. being necessary for their correct development at a level of 80% to 90%, enough to keep the snail’s skin moist. Levels both

Depending on the daytime, the humidity level should be between 70-90%. This level of humidity will be ideal to keep the snail’s skin moist.

Important: Besides temperature decrease and photoperiod diminishing, low humidity is another important factor that triggers land snail dormancy.

The relative humidity in the rearing boxes can be regulated by spraying them with water twice daily (at the beginning of both the active and resting phases).

This allowed the establishment of 2 activity periods:

  • daytime (resting) with 70% relative humidity, and
  • nocturnal (active) with close to 90% relative humidity.

Water:

Garden snails need water. As I have already said earlier, spraying them with water twice daily will keep the humidity level and provide enough water to keep them healthy.

Without water, snails will lose up to 15% of their total mass in 3 days.Water is especially important if you give snails dry food.

Important: If you are using bowls, do not add too much or they can drown.

Lighting:

On the one hand, Garden snails are nocturnal animals and avoid light. On the other hand, light greatly influences their vital and reproductive activity.

According to the study, the absence of light inhibited egg-laying. Following inhibition of oviposition, the albumen gland atrophied, indicating the storage of secretory products.

Therefore, Helix aspersa should receive around 12-18 hours of indirect light per day and 6-12 hours of darkness at night.

Hiding Spots:

Garden snails need a lot of hiding places to be happy. A LOT! Seriously, it is absolutely crucial to minimize stress to your snails by giving them a lot of places to hide.

The more hiding places you have the more active they become. The point is that when they do not have enough hiding places they feel less secure. As a result, they are more likely to spend more time hiding.

Wooden pallets, PVC pipes, pieces of bark, driftwood, wood, stones, etc. provide shelter and hiding places.

Breeding Garden Snail

Helix aspersa is a protandrous hermaphrodite. It means that they can switch between functional male and functional female. Therefore, they absolutely need copulation for the fertilization of the eggs.  

Garden snails become sexually mature when they are around 10g. of total weight (6 – 10 months old).  Sexual maturity is based on judging whether the peristome (edge of the aperture of the shell) is reflected.

Mating:

Preliminary maneuvering averages around 30 minutes. The copulation time is about 6-8 hours.

The 2 snails position themselves head to tail to exchange their spermatophore.

Each snail transfers a spermatophore into the partner’s bursa tract diverticulum and travels up to the fertilization pouch-spermatheca complex where they are stored in blind-ended spermathecal tubules.

Interesting facts:

  • Spermatophores can be stored for up to 4 years.
  • In Helix aspersa, snails possess love darts and shoot them during the final stage of

Observations indicate, that the receipt of a dart has only a small behavioral effect on sexual arousal. Scientists suggested that the dart serves as a basis for mate choice either as a nuptial gift of calcium or as an indicator of the shooter’s innate quality. Even though the
first hypothesis has been tested and rejected, the second remains a viable possibility

Incubation:

Fertilization happens in the fertilization chamber. Generally, it takes around 2-3 weeks from copulation to oviposition.

Eggs:

Garden Snail (Helix aspersa Muller) Profile and Care Guide - laying eggsThe eggs are deposited at a rate of one per 11 minutes. Weight losses following oviposition are roughly proportional to the number of eggs deposited, and weight recovery takes from 19 to 23 hours.

On average, Helix aspersa can have around 130 eggs (from 80 to 180), each with 0.6 mg of calcium in the form of calcite crystals. To lay eggs, Garden snail digs a cavity 1 inch (2-4 cm) wide with its head deep in the ground.

Egg-laying can last up to 36 hours.

Depending on the temperature and light (they need at least 8 hours of light), Helix aspersa can lay eggs every month.

Note: In breeding facilities, the egg batches are transferred and hatched on trays containing an organic substrate (a commercial mixture of fibrous peat and pine tree bark compost). This way it will help to maintain humidity.

Hatching:

Egg hatching depends on the temperature. For example, at 68°F (20°C) it takes 21 days. The survival rate is pretty high and reaches almost 90%.

Newly hatched garden snails weigh from 0.02 to 0.03 gr. After hatching, baby snails remain in their nest for the next 2-4 days.

Garden Snail and Suitable Tankmates

Natural enemies of Helix aspersa:

  • rats,
  • mouse,
  • birds,
  • frogs,
  • skunks,
  • weasels,
  • lizards,
  • some beetles,
  • centipedes,
  • land crabs,
  • predatory snails (such as Strangesta capillacea or Rosy Wolfsnail (Euglandina rosea)).

Ideally, Garden snails should not be kept with other animals.

In Conclusion

Helix aspersa has a high degree of adaptability to various climates. In addition, these snails reach sexual maturity at 6 months of age, adequate time for marketing. Thanks to these properties, on farms, Garden snails have become the most popular in breeding.

References:

  1. Iglesias, J., and J. J. M. S. Castillejo. “Field observations on feeding of the land snail Helix aspersa Muller.” Journal of Molluscan Studies 65, no. 4 (1999): 411-423.
  2. Laskowski, Ryszard, and Stephen P. Hopkin. “Effect of Zn, Cu, Pb, and Cd on fitness in snails (Helix aspersa).” Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 34, no. 1 (1996): 59-69.
  3. Herzberg, Fred, and Anne Herzberg. “Observations on reproduction in Helix aspersa.” American midland naturalist (1962): 297-306.
  4. Koene, Joris M., and Ronald Chase. “Changes in the reproductive system of the snail Helix aspersa caused by mucus from the love dart.” The Journal of experimental biology 201, no. 15 (1998): 2313-2319.
  5. Jess, S., and R. J. Marks. “Effect of temperature and photoperiod on growth and reproduction of Helix aspersa var. maxima.” The Journal of Agricultural Science 130, no. 3 (1998): 367-372.
  6. García, A., J. M. Perea, A. Mayoral, R. Acero, J. Martos, G. Gómez, and F. Peña. “Laboratory rearing conditions for improved growth of juvenile Helix aspersa Müller snails.” Laboratory animals 40, no. 3 (2006): 309-316.

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