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Housing Achatina fulica - East African land snail

Achatina fulica - East African land snail, resized image

Brief Description

Here below is an article dedicated to housing East African land snail (known as Achatina fulica), another article that belongs to the "exotic pets" category (articles that aren't dedicated to aquarium fish). You're welcome to share your experiences via form at the bottom of this page!

Achatina fulica are commonly referred to as the East African land snail or the Giant African land snail, the reasons for this are quite obvious as they grow very large in comparison to other snails when they mature plus there original habitat is based in Eastern Africa, populations have now been introduced into Asia but unfortunately they are also a very invasive species, in fact they are listed in the top 100 invasive species, this has resulted in some countries taking controls to reduce their populations.

Unfortunately if you live in the United States, they have been barred from import and it is also illegal to transport them from one state to another, a population was introduced to the United States which quickly took over the habitats putting pressure on other natural inhabitants thus declining the numbers of local species. The main problem with this species is the abundance of their breeding, one female, if gravid can start off a large colony which can spiral out of control, potential keepers should be aware of this and they should definitely never be released into the wild whichever country you are situated in.

They are abundant breeders and can also damage local crops so they are considered a pest in many countries, obviously keepers of these snails see them in a different light and grow to love their pets as they can live for up to 5-6 years of age. There are several species of snail that belong to the family of Achatinidae and these are all larger terrestrial creatures, including Achatina achatina, their shells are amazing to look at and for snail lovers they are a beauty to behold.

Much of their popularity is the ease that their care involves, they make fascinating subjects to observe and are a very low cost and maintenance pet to keep in the house.

The shells are the classic spiral design and the colouration of these can vary from a dark brown to a light brown with light banding, finding two specimens with the same shell markings is impossible, they are all unique. The shells are conical in shape, the length is approximately twice as much as the width, average lengths reaching up to 7.5 inches while the width averages at 3 inches.

The East African land snails are a great species for newcomers to keeping land snails as they are one of the hardier species and one added bonus is that they are cheap to purchase and setting up their home does not require a large budget.

Caring for Achatina fulica

These snails do have some basic requirements that must be met to give them a long and happy life, there is nothing too demanding that you have to sort out so do not be daunted by the initial setting up process.

Adult specimens will require an enclosure that is at least 1 foot x 1 foot x 18 inches, smaller specimens will require less space and if you are keeping more than one specimen then upgrade the enclosure size accordingly. Many keepers use glass aquariums, some may use plastic containers the choice is yours but whichever you choose, the enclosure must have a tight fitting lid with plenty of ventilation holes added. The lid should be either clipped down or weighted, for a snail these creatures are quite strong and can lift an unfastened lid with ease.

For the substrate you also have a choice, sterilised peat or compost can be a cheaper choice to use, you can also use vermiculite or sphagnum moss, whichever substrate that you do use it will need to be kept moist to raise the humidity levels in the enclosure, the land snails cannot withstand dry conditions so never allow this to happen.

The preferred temperature range for these snails is between 21-23°C (70-74°F) but they are quite happy with a few degrees difference either way, never let the temperature drop below 18°C (64°F), that is the absolute limit. As you can see the temperature range is compatible with normal room temperatures during most of the year so an external heat source should not be required. During the winter months this can be a different story so invest in a heat mat incase a sudden temperature drop catches you out, these are quick to set up, simply secure this at the back of the container and they are thermostatically controlled so the optimum temperature can be set. The use of an internal thermometer is also recommended so that you can always monitor the temperature with a quick glance.

The humidity level is not a major problem, the substrate needs to be kept moist to the touch but not too damp, spraying twice a day with a misting bottle should keep the substrate suitably moist and yet again the humidity levels will need to be monitored but there are humidity meters that do the job for you, these are not too expensive and are also placed inside the container. A humidity level of 85% is ideal but if it varies between 80-90 % then this also will not cause any problems.

Looking at an enclosure with just substrate inside can soon become unattractive, like reptile enclosures, your snail will also require a hiding place to retreat to, smaller plastic containers or even plant pots turned on their side can be used, add some décor by using fake plants to break up the level surface of the substrate as well. Do not add rocks or large stones as these can cause damage to the delicate snail shell, stick with lighter materials instead. Using artificial décor will make the cleaning maintenance easier as well, these can be easily removed and replaced during any cleaning.

There are commercial hides that you can purchase for your snail, experiment with different looks until you are satisfied with the final result.

The addition of a water bowl is optional, they do serve one major purpose which is helping to keep the humidity levels high but the snails do not require water bowls to drink from, they obtain their moisture from their food and surroundings, make sure that the dish is shallow as it is possible for the snails to climb inside and drown.

Once their new home is set up you must stick to a strict maintenance schedule, any build up of detritus and soiled water can lead to infections and parasites. The container itself will need a wipe down with a clean, damp cloth at least once a week while the water bowl (if added), will need its contents changed on a daily basis. The substrate should be changed every few days, more if it gets soiled before the due changeover date. Some keepers will even wash their snails to keep them looking clean and healthy, this should be done very carefully as if you drop your snail the chances of its shell breaking will be very high. Handle them carefully and clean the shell with a soft brush or similar, never use cold water, a tepid temperature is fine as colder water can shock them. This species of snail can be handled but if you are lifting them from the container, never try to pull them away from the sides by the shell, this will cause damage, always take care when the snails are being handled, one drop could smash their shell and cause irreparable damage.

Feeding Achatina fulica

The choice of foods fore your snail is very extensive, they are not fussy eaters so finding them something that they enjoy is very easy. Do not feed them the same food every day, vary their diet but keep the whole diet mainly herbivorous. They will accept fruits, greens, chopped vegetables , even mushrooms and a small amount of meaty foods such as the odd treat of a morsel of raw meat. The secret is to prepare their food for them, by doing this you will also reduce the amount that they waste thus keeping their container cleaner for longer.

Vegetables and greens should be washed, especially if you do not know if pesticides or fungicides have been used on them. Remove any dirt debris and chop them down to bite size pieces. Peel the fruit and vegetables as they do prefer the inner fruit and my leave the peel.

There is no fixed rule as to how much to feed your snail but after a few meals you should soon start to realise how much is too much or too little, practice makes perfect!

There is one key ingredient in their diet that they cannot do without and this is a good supply of calcium, this is crucial for the shell development, if this is lacking the shell will become weak and may even start to erode. The most common methods of supplying this are by adding a piece of cuttlefish to the container for the snail to rasp on or dusting the food with a calcium supplement. One cheap source of calcium has to be egg shells that have been ground down to a powder and sprinkled over the food.

Daily feeds are encouraged but make sure that any food that is ignored does not remain in the enclosure for long periods allowing it to decay and foul the substrate. If food is dropped into the water bowl change the water straight after mealtime to keep it fresh.

Breeding Achatina fulica

If you do intend to breed these snails take into consideration that they are prolific breeders and an invasive species, over populating your container without an outlet for the offspring can lead to problems, do not release any into the wild or they will take over the natural habitat and decrease local populations of wildlife. Many breeders will only keep the number of young that they can sell on or wish to keep for themselves.

Breeding these snails is easy and requires little effort on your part, once the breeding enclosure meets the snails needs, the rest is straight forward. Achatina fulica are hermaphrodites, meaning that they can take on the role of either sex,they mate by passing a capsule into the neck of their partner snail to fertilise the eggs.

The snails reach sexual maturity at an approximate age of 6-9 months, the size of the snail can also affect this, if the snail is a slow developer this will be reflected in the size of the shell.

Add a deeper substrate, at least 2 inches in depth as this will act as a nest for the eggs, then it is simply a case of adding two mature specimens, mating should take place in a short period of time and the eggs deposited into the substrate after period of a few days. The parent snail will bury itself into the substrate while the laying process is being carried out. You have a choice now of either moving the parent snails or moving the eggs, it is usually easier to remove the parent snails so that the substrate does not get disturbed. The substrate must be kept moist but not wet and the temperature maintained. Hatching times can vary with the temperature but it normally takes between a few days to a couple of weeks. You will not see the young as soon as they hatch as they will stay buried for another week and consume their egg shells, after this they will emerge and can be fed the same food as their parents.

Controlling the number of young can be achieved by either removing the eggs or a majority of the eggs and crushing them, remember only keep the number of young that you can sell on or wish to keep yourself.

Extra notes

Looking after this species of snail can have its drawbacks the same as any other pet that may be owned by us. Always keep a close eye on your snail for symptoms that something isn’t quite right, if bad signs are spotted early then the problem can be dealt with faster and before too much damage has been done.

There are a few tell tale symptoms that are noticeable to us such as the snail hiding inside its shell all of the time, something is definitely wrong here so you should try to coax out the shell with some tempting food, younger snails that exhibit this trait do not usually pull out of this syndrome, with adult snails it is a temporary problem and can usually be reversed.

If the shell stops growing or it starts to erode, this is usually a sign of calcium deficiency, this problem needs to be sorted straight away by supplying extra calcium to the food and making sure that there is always a source in the container such as dried cuttlefish.

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