Nature’s Corner – Snails – snacks, pests or pets?

By Alana Bailey

People have different opinions about snails. Some may think of cruel ways to eradicate them from their gardens. Others immediately think of garlic butter … and then there are actually people who keep snails as pets! The latter especially applies to giant land snails.

South Africa is home to 27 snail species in four genera of the family Achatinidae, also known as the Giant African Land Snails. These snails are egg-laying hermaphrodites. On average, around 200 eggs are laid at a time. The process can be repeated 5 to 6 times a year. The eggs hatch after 8 to 21 days. The snails reach their adult size within about six months, after which their growth slows, but never comes to a stop during their lifetime. They can live up to 5 or even 10 years.

A Giant African Land Snail’s size depends on the environment in which it lives. The Brownlipped Agate (Metachatina kraussi), which is found in forests and savanna woodland areas in KwaZulu-Natal, can grow up to 16 cm in length. These snails are herbivores ‒ they even seem to like fruit a lot. In the wild, their shells provide particularly effective camouflage and only once you know that they are found in an area, will you start to notice them. Over rough terrain, they can climb rocks slowly, but skillfully.

There are people who like to keep Giant African Land Snails as pets, but outside their natural habitat this can lead to serious environmental problems, because they are avid invasive species. They are not poisonous, but snails can be carriers of parasites that can cause health problems in both humans and animals.

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