Snails may not be one of the first animals that springs to mind when considering what type of pet you might like to keep, but the giant African land snail is definitely worthy of a second glance for anyone seeking a relatively low maintenance and rather unusual pet for themselves or their family!
Giant African land snails are also a good first pet for children and school groups under adult care and supervision, as they can be observed and studied in their tank without the need for frequent handling and so, offer a good introduction for younger children into the fascinating world of wildlife!
There are various different species of ‘giant’ wild snails hailing from Africa, but the most commonly seen as pets within the UK are ‘Achatina achatina'; also known as the giant Ghana snail or giant tiger land snail. They are designated as a ‘land snail’ to differentiate between land snails, and aquatic snails and other molluscs. They are native to Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and various other countries along Africa’s west coast. Giant African land snails are, as the name implies, much larger than the UK native snails that you will find in the garden, growing to a length of around 18cm long or even more, and often having a shell the size of a closed fist. As well as making popular if unusual pets in the UK and America, they are also prized for the markings and patterns on their shells, which are often collected by curators.
Giant African land snails are relatively easy to feed, making them a good, low maintenance pet for people with busy lives. However, a constant supply of fresh fruit and vegetables should always be available to them, and so there is some commitment involved in ensuring that you always have some fresh greens to hand, as well as clearing any rotting or discarded food from the tank on a regular basis.
Giant African land snails particularly enjoy foods such as apple and banana, although their staple diet should mainly consist of cucumber and lettuce. Cabbage may also be given, as can many other green vegetables and non-acidic fruits. Giant African land snails require a high amount of calcium in their diets in order to keep their shells strong and healthy, so it is also necessary to provide a cuttlefish bone for them to eat as well.
An aquarium tank made of plastic or glass is the perfect home for your giant African land snails, and you must also ensure that it has a well fitting and secure lid to prevent any escapes! The size of the tank that you should provide will depend on how many snails you intend to keep together, and you must be sure to accommodate for their ongoing growth if you get your snails while they are young!
Peat-free compost is the perfect substrate for the floor of the tank, and some large chunks of bark should also be provided for your snails to hide under if they wish to. The soil of the tank will need to be kept damp but not wet at all times, and so you must be able to get to it easily in order to spray it with water or trickle water into the soil. Leaf moss is also helpful to place on top of the soil to help to keep it damp and comfortable for your snails. You will also need to provide a bowl of water and a heater for the tank, such as a heat lamp, to maintain a constant temperature of between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius. Snails tend to breed prolifically, and giant African land snails are hermaphrodite, meaning that they have both male and female sex organs, so any pair of snails has the potential to breed! You should think about this carefully if you wish to keep more than one snail per tank; might you possibly end up with more snails than you can handle?
Snails can carry the salmonella bacteria, so it is important to wash your hands thoroughly after handling either your snails or any equipment from within their tanks, and to keep their bowls and equipment separate from your other household equipment and take special care with its cleanliness.
It is legal to own and keep giant African land snails within the UK, although it is illegal to release either non-native snails or their eggs into the wild. Giant African land snails are considered to be an invasive species that could significantly affect the ecosystem of your local area if released into the wild, decimating greenery and removing food sources from our native snails.
Giant African land snails can be bought from pet shops that specialise in exotic pets, or sometimes bought directly from specialist breeders online. Because giant African land snails are relatively easy to breed in captivity, you should seek to source your potential future pets from snails bred within the UK rather than imported from the wild.
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