Giant African Land Snails – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet and Breeding

Giant African Land Snails, Lissachatina fulica, formerly Achatina fulica and apple

Giant African Land Snails (Achatina sp.) or GALS are exotic pets that do not pop up immediately in our minds when it comes to keeping pets. However, if you are looking for an entertaining pet that is generally easy to take care of, you cannot do much better than a Giant African Land Snail. It is cute, unique, and simply amazing.

In this article, I cover the most popular Giant African Land Snail (Achatina fulica) and explain its ideal setup, preferred diet and much more.

Before bringing home your new Giant African Land Snail, it is very important to have all the supplies you need such as housing, accessories, and food. This will ensure that your Giant African Land Snails have an easy and healthy transition to your care.

WARNING:

NEVER release Giant African Land Snail into the wild. Check your state laws before purchasing. This is a restricted (banned) species in some US states due to their potential to become invasive.  For example, Achatina fulica has become recognized as one of the world’s most damaging pests and is listed in the Global Invasive Species Database among “One hundred of the world’s worst invasive alien species”.

In addition, this snail (mostly wild-caught) is known as a vector of at least two human disease agents: the rat lung-worm Parastrongylus (=Angiostrongylus) cantonensis and a gramnegative bacterium, Aeromonas hydrophila, which causes a wide range of symptoms.

Quick Notes about Giant African Land Snails

Name Achatina fulica
Other Names
African giant snail, Giant African land snail, Kalutara snail and GALS
Scientific Name Lissachatina fulica, formerly Achatina fulica
Tank size (minimum) 5 gallons (~20 liters)
Keeping Easy
Breeding Easy
Size 15 – 18 cm (~6 – 7 inches)
Optimal Temperature 20 – 25°C  (~68°F – 77°F)
Humidity 60 – 80%
Substrate Deep enough to bury
Diet Detritivore /omnivore
Temperament Peaceful. Solitary
Life span up to 9 years
Color Form Brown and cream/yellow striped shell

Origin of the Giant African Land Snails

The origin of the Giant African Land Snails is traced to some countries in East Africa (Kenya, Mozambique, and Somalia). Although it is now found in so many parts of the world; such as in the continents of South America, Asia, North America, Australia, Europe, and Africa (the only continent where you can’t find the Giant African Land Snail is Antarctica).

The journey of the Giant African Land Snails from Eastern Africa to other parts of the world was not as a result of migratory movement; but through other means of transportation such as agricultural exchange, smuggling, vehicle attachment, and commerce. 

Habitat of the Giant African Land Snails

As a result of its love for humid climate; the Giant African Land Snails thrive well in the following type of habitats – wetlands, gardens, shrublands, riverbanks, orchards, natural forests, plantations; and you can also find them in urban areas where they can get moisture and food.

During extreme cold and hot weather, the Giant African Land Snails restrict their movements and feeding; so that it can decelerate its body metabolism. The snail limits its movement by staying in its shell and sealing its shell for months during these periods. The sealing is achieved when the snail secretes a calcium substance, which aids the sealing off when it dries off. This process of hibernation and sealing off can last as long as three years and above. 

Description of the Giant African Land Snails

Giant African Land Snails, Lissachatina fulica, formerly Achatina fulicaOut of the different species of snails, Achatina fulica is one of the most prominent and largest gastropods in the world, as it has the tendencies to grow up to 7 inches in length (18 cm).

It is easy to identify Achatina fulica, with its unique brown and cream/yellow striped shell (the shades of brown vary from light to dark). The shell of the Giant African Land Snail is hard, strong, and attached permanently to the body of the snail.

The shell is shaped in a logarithmic spiral shape that features about seven to nine whorls, which starts with a small bottom and ends with a large opening at the top right side.

The opening at the top side is where the soft body part of the snail can be seen. This flexible body part features the eyes, upper and lower tentacles, mouth, head, and mantle of the snail, and the hard shell protects it against predators and other external influences.

The mantle of the Giant African Land Snails is a skinfold that envelops the visceral mass (a congregate of the respiratory, reproductive, excretory, and digestive organs); and it helps to maintain and repair the outer part of the snail (the shell) by secreting calcium carbonate that hardens the shell; and also by absorbing water for the snail.

The snail moves with the aid of a muscular ventral foot. This ventral foot is shaped like a wave, which helps the snail glide in movement; as it leaves a slippery mucus-like trail behind. 

Lifespan of the Giant African Land Snails

The average Giant African Land Snail grows into adulthood at the age of 6 months, after which the rate at which they grow is reduced. This doesn’t mean that the snail stops growing altogether; it doesn’t stop growing, but the growth isn’t as pronounced as before.

The Giant African Land Snails’ lifespan usually lasts about 3 to 6 years (as a result of non-favorable living conditions). Under optimal conditions, some individuals may live as long as 9 years.  

Behavior of Giant African Land Snails

The Giant African Land Snail is a nocturnal animal, i.e., an animal that is active and awake throughout the night. In their native tropical habitat, Giant African Land Snails are usually dormant or relatively passive during the hottest hours of the day.

The snail can bury itself deep into the soil to prevent overheating or overcooling.

Also, the snail lives its life in isolation. It is an anti-social animal that doesn’t relate or communicate with other animals. Of a fact, the Giant African Land Snail doesn’t have a rapport with its offspring after they are hatched.

Some snail keepers can disagree with me. They say that African snails enjoy the company of other snails and can follow each other in the tank. First of all, even big tanks are small for these snails, so they do not have much choice where to crawl. Second, the pursuit might be the sign of mating which can last for hours.

Although this snail lacks a sense of hearing, the snail’s organ of smell is sharp and strong; and it aids a swift discovery of mates, food sources, predators, and threats.

Interesting fact: According to the experiments, Achatina fulica can learn within several daily training as defensive behavior at least during a month after the negative experience.

Feeding Giant African Land Snails

The Giant African Land Snail is an omnivores animal. In the wild, they eat a wide variety of foods: fallen fruit, rotting vegetation, decaying wood, leaf litter, plants, dead animals, grasses, etc. Giant African Land Snails are not fussy eaters by nature. These snails will eat anything they come across.

Snails need a well-balanced diet:

  • Vegetables and Fruits
  • Protein
  • Calcium

Vegetables and Fruits

Giant African Land Snails, Lissachatina fulica, formerly Achatina fulica and apple and eating cucumberThe Giant African Land Snails love vegetables: lettuce, carrot, potato, leek, cellery, pumpkin, cucumber, apples, banana, moss, etc. Always give them a variety of foods, so that they get proper nutrients. For example, lettuce and cucumbers mostly consist of water so your snails will not get enough nutrients just from them. However, these vegetables are great during very hot days, they will additionally hydrate the snails.

Also, some snail keepers noticed that bananas and cucumbers may be addictive for the snails. They have a tendency to gorge on them all the time. So, do not feed them to your snails too much or they may start neglecting other foods.

Tip: Giant African Land Snails actually prefer banana that’s been left out for a day or so.

Protein

It is also very important to give the Giant African Land Snails a higher protein meal once or twice a week. According to the study, Achatina fulica requires about 18% of crude protein in their diet for optimal growth.

Things that you can give include:

  • boiled chicken, fish, beef, etc.
  • fish / shrimp/ crab flakes and
  • Dog food.

Interesting fact: Biologists noticed carnivorous behavior of Achatina fulica. It is surprising that no one has reported carnivorous behavior by this species in which it attacks, subdues, and consumes live prey. These snails preyed on veronicellid slugs. In one of the experiments 3  smaller (10 to 15 mm in shell length). Achatina fulica attacked, killed and consumed one veronicellid slug (>5 cm in length). So, yes, they do need protein.

Calcium

In addition to vegetables, greens, and fruits, this snail feeds on bones of animals, eggshells, and chalk; so that it can get enough calcium to keep its shell healthy and strong. When Giant African Land Snails can’t find calcium from any of the sources mentioned above, they don’t hesitate to feed even on plaster walls!

Cuttlefish bone should be in their tank all the time.

Food Rules:

  • Remove any uneaten food every day or it will rot and mold very quickly.
  • With any food that you feed your snails make sure that you wash it thoroughly first. You don’t know if it might have been exposed to any pesticides or any kind of contamination.
  • Do not feed them anything grilled or fried. It is not good for them.
  • Do not Giant African Land Snails citrus (like orange or grapefruit). It is very dangerous due to the acid in 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.

Your pet snail needs to be fed regularly too; hence you have to make provision for food for it consciously, most especially foods with a high concentration in Calcium. A calcium deficiency can cause weakness and crack in the shell of your beloved pet, and when this happens, your pet is susceptible to heat and dehydration.

Are Giant African Land Snails Plat Safe?

No, they are not! These snails are notorious generalists that consume over 500 plant species and ranks consistently among the world’s most invasive pests.

Keeping and Housing Giant African Land Snails

The best way to care for your Giant African Land Snail as a pet is to house it in a covered plastic or glass tank that you can substrate with compost/soil so that your snail can burrow easily. Generally, Achatina fulica is regarded as the most invasive and hardy of all species of achatinides.

Note: It will be a bad idea to house different Giant African Land Snail species together because they have different temperature and humidity needs.

GALS and Tank size

Giant African Land Snails need plenty of space to thrive! Considering their size, I would recommend at least a 5-gallon plastic or glass tank with a screen top to prevent escape. However, more room may be required as they grow. 

Do not place the tank in direct sunlight, near windows of drafts, or in any place with extreme temperatures.

GALS and Substrate

As I have already mentioned, Giant African Land Snails are natural diggers, and it’s important that you provide enough deep moist substrate to simulate a natural environment.

How deep your substrate should be? In general, it depends on the size of your African Land Snails. Make sure that it is deep enough to bury their whole shell plus an inch or two (3 – 5 cm) more.

What substrate do Giant African Land Snails prefer? Well, hands down, the best substrates for African snail tanks is coconut fiber. There are two reasons for this. It is easy for you to clean. Second, it is similar to the natural environment of the snails so it allows them to dig, and borrow.

Note: Avoid substrates that do not allow them to dig (for example, wood chips or gravel) or does not retain moisture and can stick to your snails (like calcium carbonate sand). 

GALS and Humidity

Humidity levels are really important. Although Giant African Snails live on land, they nevertheless need moist, humid air to breathe properly. Their tank should be tropical in nature with a relative humidity between 60-80%.

Important: Keep in mind that Achatina fulica does not tolerate high humidity as well, especially at an older age. Therefore, if high humidity remains for a long time, the snail may die. To prevent this, you should have good ventilation.

You need to be sure about this parameter. It’s not enough to guess what it is. Your snail’s life literally depends on it so it is essential to have a hygrometer to keep a close watch on humidity levels.

Tip: You can mist your tank with dechlorinated water (use Seachem Prime to do that) to keep relative humidity.

GALS and Temperature

The temperature inside the enclosure should always be between 20 – 25 C (68 and 77 F). Use a quality tank heater or clamp lamp to maintain temperature. I also definitely recommend a thermostat. It will protect your snails from overheating or getting too cold.

To heat your pet’s tank, you have to provide an alternative source of heat such as a heating pad strategically placed to the side of the tank. The point is that, if you use an under the tank heater, it can overheat your substrate and hurt buried snail.

Note: When the environment becomes too hot and dry, your pet snail might be forced to go into hibernation, and there is absolutely no fun in that for you. If it happened to you, check tank conditions and adjust them. Allow snail to “wake up” on its own. DO NOT break the seal.

GALS and Water Dish

Some people think that Giant African Land Snails need a bit of drinking water and install water dishes in their terrarium. I have done extensive research and have not found any proof of that.

Achatina fulica species does not need a water dish. They get all water from vegetables, regular spraying, and the moist environment.

So, there is no point in using water dishes, but if you do get one – make sure it is very shallow (a few millimeters deep). Giant African Land Snails have the breathing hole right under the shell. In deep water (when it reaches their shell) they cannot breathe.

GALS and Light

Giant African Land Snails do not need light. They are nocturnal.

GALS and Decorations.

Giant African Land Snails are pretty active creatures and enjoy to climb, burrow, and hide. By providing them with the right kind of decor, you can create an environment for them that’s close to their natural one:

  • Twigs and branches
  • Fake plants (they will eat live plants)
  • Unpainted plastic pots
  • Driftwood, etc.

Important: Do not place anything hard (such as rocks, stones, ceramic or glass water dishes) in the terrarium! These snails are heavy, so when they fall from the top, they can easily break their shells. Plastic is the best choice and, please, cover everything with moss or substrate.

Tank Equipment (examples with links to check the price on Amazon)

Mating Giant African Land Snails

Giant African Land Snails, Lissachatina fulica, formerly Achatina fulica and baby snailsThis snail is a protandrous hermaphrodite animal, i.e., it is an animal that has both male and female reproductive organs.

Early reports of self-fertilization have since been discounted by scientists. Therefore, to reproduce, seeing that the Giant African Land Snail cannot fertilize itself, it mates with other snails to breed. This mating occurs once in 2 months, and it happens at night only.

Note: Sometimes, newly bought snails start laying eggs, as a result, people think that these snails can self-fertilize. No, they cannot. It just means that the snail mated before. In addition, keep in mind that they can store sperm for months! This is how they can lay eggs “without” mating.

The purpose of mating is the only reason why the Giant African Land Snail communicates and interacts with other snails. The Giant African Land Snail is a choosy and selective animal when it comes to mating; it doesn’t mate with just any type of snail; it chooses its mating partner based on size and age.

According to the study, Snails find mates by chemical senses (olfaction and contact sensation). Giant African Land Snails locate potential mates by sensing cues in mucus trails then following the trails to find the source. Their courtship can last several hours.

The duration of copulation in Achatina fulica is typically 6 to 8 hours with a range of 1 to 24 hours. During the mating process, one snail will mount the shell of another, and there would be an exchange of sperm between both snails. When the sperm is exchanged, fertilization occurs in both snails.

Breeding Giant African Land Snails

In the humid tropics, Giant African land snails in the wild lay eggs about 2 to 3 times per season. Egg laying, hatching, and development in the wild are thus seasonally influenced by temperature, humidity and moisture content of the soil.

The average Giant African Land Snail starts breeding at the age of 6 – 8 months, and it can produce at least 100 eggs to 500 eggs in a month throughout ten years. The snail lays yellowish egg 8 to 20 days after the mating occurs, and eggs are laid either in a nest, in the soil, among the rocks, or in the leaves.

The laying period is followed by a hatching period, which takes place between 10 to 21 days under tropical conditions. Newly hatched Giant African Land Snails weight about 1.26 g.

Note: Do not put different Achatina sp. in the same tank or they might actually breed together and create hybrids.

What Should I Do With the Eggs?

If you do happen to find eggs that you don’t want, you need to destroy them. For example, you can place them in a container and put it inside your freezer. Keep them there for a few hours to stop the eggs from hatching.

I will repeat – do not release any snails into the wild!

Bathing the Giant African Land Snails

Give them a lukewarm shower, not a bath. Do it once a month to keep them healthy. When soaking of snails never leave them unattended and make sure that the water is not too hot or too cold. 

Handling a Giant African Land Snail

Some rules:

  • Never handle them with salty hands.
  • Although the Giant African Land Snail is one with a tough shell; you still have to handle it with care and resist from picking it at the base of the shell; to avoid damaging the shell. Slowly go underneath the snail and release the vacuum between the snail and the surface and pick it
  • Use gloves or wet your hands before handling the Giant African Land Snails. To be on the safer side, it is advised that you should put on a glove or protective finger wear before you touch/handle this snail. This is to safeguard you from contracting infections from the snail.
    Tip: Use a lettuce leaf to hold the snail.
  • In general, don’t hesitate to wash your hands with soap and water immediately after you touch/handle this snail.

Issues You Might Have With the Giant African Land Snails

One of the downsides to keeping the Giant African Land Snails as pets is that they are carriers of parasites that are harmful to humans.

For example, you can get meningitis from the wild-caught African snails. The parasite is found in rats and is passed on through the feces, which a snail could then eat. The parasite only gets passed to humans when people eat uncooked snail meat. How often does that happen?

Generally, they do not have these kinds of diseases as long as they are captive bred and you keep them in sanitary conditions they are perfectly fine to handle. 

Buying the Giant African Land Snails

Before you purchase your Giant African Land Snails, do well to make inquiries about the legality of snails in your state and country of residence. For instance, buying this snail and domesticating it as a pet is highly illegal and punishable under the laws of the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Hence, you need to know if you are liable to be persecuted or not for purchasing this animal.  

In Conclusion

Giant African Land Snails are not hard to care once you establish a routine. Achatina fulica is extraordinary and low maintenance pets that thrive in the right tank set up.

As a snail owner, you should always be monitoring the health of your snails and watching out for any indicators of concern. Most issues can be traced back to poor care in feeding patterns, humidity, and tank maintenance.

References:

  1. Reproductive characterization of three species of Giant African land snails (GALs) in captivity. African Journal of Biotechnology Vol. 10(50), pp. 10315-10319, 5 September, 2011. DOI: 10.5897/AJB11.875.
  2. Is It Possible to Train Achatina Fulica Using a Visual Stimulation? I. B. Baikova, V. V. Zhukov. Department of Bioecology, Kaliningrad State University, Kaliningrad.
  3. Giant African snail, Achatina fulica, as a snail predator. Article in American Malacological Bulletin. January 2009. DOI: 10.4003/0740-2783-24.1.117.
  4. The Uniqueness of Achatina fulica in its Evolutionary Success. Chapter. August 2017. DOI: 10.5772/68134.
  5. The preferential feeding habits of Achatina (Lissachatina) fulica (Bowdich) on selected crops grown and weeds found in Trinidad, West Indies. Cogent Food & Agriculture (2018), 4: 1491283.
  6. Exigência de proteína para o caracol gigante (Achatina fulica) em fase de crescimento. Protein requirements for giant snail (Achatina fulica) during the growth phase. Acta Scientiarum. Animal Sciences 21(3): 683-686.
  7. Tomiyama K, 1994. Courtship behaviour of the giant Africal snail, Achatina fulica (Férussac) (Stylommatophora: Achatinidae) in the field. Journal of Molluscan Studies, 60(1):47
  8. Tomiyama K, 2002. Age dependency of sexual role and reproductive ecology in a simultaneously hermaphroditic land snail, Achatina fulica (Stylommatophora: Achatinidae). Venus, 60(4):273-283

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