Snail Pet Life

Our new pet snail spends most of her time hanging upside down or nestling in the corner of a food bowl. However, sometimes, especially in the evening during dancing TV shows, she wakes up and explores all over her terrarium. We cannot be sure that she is female, but my daughter insists that the snail is a girl like herself. (Indeed I am not sure if snails have the usual gender distinctions!)

Our pet snail Slimy in her terrarium, Bay Area, California, 5/2010

Although we always try to follow the Junior Ranger pledge of never removing anything from the environment, I felt it was acceptable to pick up our snail from a local sidewalk. The temperature was climbing toward 85 degrees, and she had decided to close her shell right in the center of a busy thoroughfare of bicycles, shoppers, and wayward toddlers. As time has gone on, she has seemed content in her terrarium.

After some web research, chiefly at the great site Pet Snails, we set up the now-named Slimy in her own luxurious terrarium. At first, we lined the whole terrarium with bark bought at a pet store. However, we observed scientifically that Slimy spent almost all of her time on the smooth terrarium walls. So we decided to divide the floor in half with a line of smooth rocks: one half is clear plastic and the other bark. We feel having some bark gives her the opportunity to bury and hide. Note that it is best not to use soap when cleaning terrariums, since snails easily absorb chemicals.

The other natural feature she enjoys is having some sticks. The sticks are useful when we need to transport her. However, I didn't anticipate one of the benefits of the sticks. One night I was engrossed in watching "Dancing With the Stars." Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a stick waving. I rushed over to find Slimy chewing on the stick and waving it, like a flag, all over her terrarium.

We also researched food. Although the Pet Snails website suggested a grocery-list worth assortment of fruits and vegetables, after much experimentation, we believe Slimy basically only likes cucumber, especially the dark green skin. She has failed to eat cantaloupe, cilantro, cherries, blueberries, and perhaps, peas. We may experiment with peas again. Somehow they did all disappear (suggesting Slimy ingested them), but my husband may have cleaned them up and forgotten. Stay tuned for the results of our repeat peas taste test. Related to food is the cuttlefish bone. Snails need a source of calcium, so we bought a cuttlefish bone at the pet store. Slimy enjoys scraping on this, but we do not enjoy handling it. It has a very strong ocean scent, so I suggest wearing gloves when moving it.

The last useful advice for snail pet ownership is: Don't be alarmed if suddenly your snail starts spewing bubbles! During one transport operation, I had used a stick to remove Slimy safely by scraping her foot (never pull a snail directly by the shell). Suddenly, I felt a burbling akin to a volcano and then bubbles started popping out of the shell. I didn't know what to think, but later learned that snails use bubbles as a defense mechanism and confusion-causing tactic.

Enjoying Snails

Although I experienced a moment of skepticism when my daughter said she wanted a snail pet, I am now glad that we have learned so much about a creature that too often people step on without a thought. By looking closely, we have realized that a snail's eyes are not on top of the antennae. Just like whiskers on a cat, the antennae are for feeling objects. The eyes are located on smaller stalks below the antennae.

To me, snails symbolize an animal aware of its history. Like tree rings, the spirals on a snail's shell show its past. In its surroundings, it leaves glistening trails of the places it has been, so that in the morning, we wake up and see where our snail explored overnight.

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