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Fancy these GALS?
(An Introduction to Giant African Land Snails)

By Martin Overton


Achatina fulica (Sid) side viewI've always been fascinated by snails, as I have with many, many creatures. It must have been my upbringing where I constantly had some bug or other creature to investigate. I was always a curious child and it hasn't changed to this date.

So, when I saw the GALS at the 1999 BTS show  I attended I just had to get one (Achatina fulica) . Then, at the 2000t BTS show I purchased a further two. At the 2001 BTS show I purchased another species (Achatina stuhlmanni (Ugandan Pink Lip Snail)). I was also given some Achatina achatina (Tiger Snails) babies and one of them survived and is growing fast and is very healthy.

My 3 large Achatina fulica then proceeded to breed like.....well....like, snails! (There is a picture of some of the eggs on the right). Rabbits have nothing on snails, when it comes to the ability to reproduce! Achatina fulica eggs (about 90!)

Below are some pictures of the proud parents with two of their many offspring. 

Wide view... Closing in... The babies are the little pearl sized lumps...

Introduction:

Achatina fulica (Sid) front viewThere are several species sold as Giant African Land Snails, these are: East African Land Snails (Achatina fulica), West African Land Snails (Achatina marginata) the other snail that is sometimes seen is the very large Achatina achatina that has been recorded at over 37cm in size from snout to tail and a shell size of 27cm.

Achatina fulica is a tropical snail, but can survive cold conditions, even snow, by aestivating (equivalent to hibernation). Snails are hermaphroditic (both male and female), and after a single mating can produce a number of batches of fertile eggs over a period of months. This does NOT mean that they can mate with themselves, they still require a partner A. fulica lays eggs in batches of 100 to 400 with up to 1200 being laid in a year. 

Eggs are spherical to ellipsoidal in shape (4.5-5.5 mm in diameter) and are yellow to cream in colour. These hatch after about 8-21 days under tropical conditions. The eggs hatch releasing snails about 4mm long. After eating their own shell, the baby snails move straight onto adult food, maturing in six to nine months, depending on temperature and food. 

These snails grow up to 10mm per month. After 6 months, the Achatina fulica is about 35mm long and may already be sexually mature. Sexual maturity takes 6 to 16 months, depending on weather and the availability of calcium. This snail lives 5 or 6 years, sometimes as many as 9 years.

Housing:

Snails are one of the easiest of the exotic pets to keep. All you need is a reasonable sized tank (plastic or glass) with a secure lid, some general purpose compost, a small water dish and a heat pad.

Snails should have fresh substrate every week and this should be at least 1-2 inches deep to allow the snail to bury itself as it would in the wild.

Feeding:

Achatina fulica (Sid and Snot) munching on cucumberSnails will eat almost any vegetable or fruit, just make sure that you rinse the food well to ensure that any pesticides are washed off. Mine are rather Achatina fulica (Sid and Snot) munching on cucumber (closer view) keen on Peppers, Cucumber and Cos lettuce. They have also eaten apple, nectarine, grapes, banana, peach, plums, etc They will also eat brown bread and moistened dog biscuits.


Achatina fulica (Sid and Snot) munching on cucumber (closest view)
Snails need calcium, and to get this the best source is cuttle fish bone (same as you use for budgies). Without this calcium the snails shell will not be very strong and maybe slow to grow.Achatina fulica (Snot) munching on cucumber (close-up)

Snails are also fond of the occasional drop of beer. Not to much, as you'll end up with an alcoholic or pickled snail!

Handling:

Snails don't seem to mind being handled, you might not like to be slimed though!

A word of warning though, please treat them gently as you can easily damage the new shell growth at the base of the shell.

Other Info:

In the west of Africa they are farmed for their meat and their shells. The meat is eaten by the locals, like giant escargot, and the shells are ground up and used in native medicines. In East Africa, giant snails of a number of species are eaten, and in East Africa they are fed to domestic animals, particularly ducks. 

Anatomy:

What about British Snails?:

If you are interested in British snails, there are several common species. The brightly and individually coloured Banded snail Ceprea nemoralis is perhaps the most attractive. The common brown garden snail, and the closely related Roman snail are also interesting in that they are extremely long-lived - up to 16 years being not exceptional. 


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