… “But, where will he stay?” you may wonder. It’s not like you can just make up the spare bed. (Unless you want slimy sheets and a free roaming mollusk in your guest room.) A mason jar with some cheesecloth secured up top with a rubber band will work in a pinch, but only for the very short term. If your gastropod friend will be visiting for an extended period, it may be time to think about setting up a terrarium.
Off to the pet supply store! But, guess what? There is NO snail section. Are you as appalled by this fact as I am? What a shocking oversight on the part of the big box pet chains. But, don’t fret. You can gather what you need from the other animals’ sections and grumble under your breath about the underrepresentation of Helix Aspersa in mainstream pet care.
First up, a tank! Glass tanks are visually appealing and come in a wide variety of sizes, but they are pretty expensive. You, like me, may need to save that cash to throw down at the Farmer’s Market for some local, organic produce to fill the food bowl (his and hopefully yours too). We spent about $18 on the largest plastic “critter catcher” the store carried. Whatever you choose, you want it to be big enough to hold a couple of bowls for water and food, with perhaps some extra room for him to stretch his foot. Another important feature is a lid that locks down tight. Snails are surprisingly strong, capable of lifting 10 times their body weight in a vertical position. So, if you opt for a glass aquarium style tank, you want a mesh lid with locking clips! (I don’t personally like the lids that have a light or heating unit built in as I’m pretty sure a snail could get crawl up to the light or heat source and get hurt. This is just a hunch on my part.)
Flooring… You’ll want a substrate for the snail to crawl along on. You can use garden soil among other things, but you have to be super careful about any additives, pesticides or critters that may come with that territory. Some folks will take dirt from their garden and bake it in the oven to sterilize it. This is what I did at first… but ultimately opted for some coir (coconut fiber) that I picked up at the aforementioned pet shop in the reptile section. It comes compressed in blocks and for $10 I got enough to last us at least 6 months of tank cleanings. Soak it in some water, wring out the excess and pop it in the tank. We fill ours about 2 inches deep. We also use sphagnum moss (from the same aisle) on top of the coir. Similar prep as the coir – soak it, wring it out and place inside.
Guest bath and dining…. Grab a couple of bowls – one for food, one for water. I found some small ones in the hermit crab section. (I mean seriously. Hermit crabs get their own area, but not snails? Psshht.) Basically, something shallow and lacking sharp edges should do the trick. When filling the water bowl, keep in mind that snails can drown. (Eek!) So, just a little bit of water and it’s a great idea to place a stick or small branch into the dish to give him something to climb out on. Also, I like to surround the bowls with some of the sphagnum moss to keep the surroundings soft and cushy.
From the kitchen… Fill that little food bowl with organic greens and veg! Wash them carefully first, of course. Our friend loves romaine, red leaf lettuce, dill and kale especially and we’re going to try some other things like shredded carrot and cucumber this week. Snails need a source of calcium to grow and maintain a healthy shell, so be sure to grab a cuttlebone from the bird section of the pet store and set it in the tank in a spot where it can be sat upon and munched.
Maid service… I clean any snail poops up as soon as I see them (because who wants to sit in a plastic room with their own poo? Not, I.) and I spray the tank down with water twice a day to keep things nice and humid. (I keep a spray bottle full of room temp water right next to the tank.) Once a month, you’ll need to relocate your buddy to a smaller container while you give the tank a thorough cleaning. Replace the coir, but you can soak and rinse the moss, getting 2 or 3 uses out of it before discarding. Give the tank and any bowls or decorations a good washing.
And that’s it! I hope you enjoy your house guest as much as we enjoy ours. Observing a snail is oddly meditative. They have a lot to teach to those who are willing to listen. But, that’s a post for another day. 🙂
Here are some websites I found to be great resources for snail care: