Discover everything you need to know about snails in our guide below.

brown snails

What are Snails

Snails (scientific name Gastropoda) are some of the most diverse animals on earth in terms of their form and habitat. 

While there are thousands of types of snails, a handful are widely known as the Roman Snail or the Garden Snail. Today, there are two primary families of snails: aquatic and terrestrial snails. Aquatic snails live in water, while terrestrial snails live on land in humid, damp areas.

Land snails are gastropod mollusks, which means they are related to octopuses and all other snails and slugs. 

The Behavior, Diet, and Habits of Snails

Most people can identify snails when they see them: snails have soft, moist, long bodies with a defined “foot” for movement and a head with a pair of retractable tentacles. Snails have coiled shells made of hard calcium carbonate.

The shells of snails make them easy to identify since different species of snails have different shell characteristics, such as spiraling patterns, ridges, or pumps. The shell aperture (opening) often has distinctive projections, folds, or other features.

Aside from the shell, the most apparent part of a snail’s body is the muscular foot at its base. The foot is covered in a thin layer of mucus and, through muscle contractions, allows the snail to move from place to place.

When it comes to diet, snails eat organic and inorganic materials. Most land snails are herbivores or omnivores, and only a few species are predatory.

Snail diets generally consist of plants, fungi, animal matter, and soil. That said, snail diets vary widely (even within a single species). Snails will take advantage of all food sources that are within crawling distance of their habitat. Snails are also particularly fond of citrus and will consume the leaves and fruits of citrus trees.

Land snails are most active at night, and during damp weather, which minimizes the evaporation of the mucus membrane they rely on to crawl. Snails live in the upper leaf litter of forest habitats, wetlands, and old fields. Still, they will also establish populations in habitats like active gardens, fields, river banks, cities, and even suburbs.

snail behavior
damaged leaf

What Damage Do Snails Cause?

Snails feeding on living plants use their rasp-like tongues to scrape the flowers and leaves, creating large, irregular holes with smooth edges

When snail populations are large enough, their feeding behavior can kill plants or clip small succulents.

In addition to consuming flowers and foliage, snails consume turfgrass seedlings and ripe fruit close to the ground, such as strawberries and tomatoes.

In some cases, they will consume the plant bark, foliage, and fruit of some trees – they’re especially fond of citrus trees, which are also especially susceptible to snail damage.

If left unattended, snails can also destroy water features and spread diseases and parasitic worms (including Schistosomiasis) that can spread to people and domestic pets.

How to Get Rid of Snails

Getting rid of snails in a garden or outdoor space can be tough, since it’s impossible to remove the things that attract them: moisture and plant matter. Ground cover and lots of moisture speed up the snail breeding timeline, so it can seem like infestations crop up overnight!

Fortunately, tactics like bait (homemade beer can bait traps work well), traps, barriers and repellents, salt, chemicals, pesticides, and the introduction of natural predators, like beneficial nematodes, can all help control snail populations. 

If you’re going to use bait to control snails, keep in mind that snails live in both the canopy of plants and on the ground. Instead of only putting bait on the ground, sprinkle some snail bait in your plants, too. This will provide the fastest and most comprehensive control. 

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To keep snails out of your garden, you can use barriers of diatomaceous earth, lime, sawdusted, or crushed eggshells.

These substances work by dehydrating and killing snails, or creating a layer of sharp material they don’t want to crawl over. The downside of this approach, of course, is that you’ll have to re-apply your barrier every time it rains, or after you water your garden.

If you have the space for it, natural predators can also be a great way to get rid of snails. Ducks devour snails in gardens and other outdoor spaces, as do chickens and rats.

Snails enter gardens and outdoor spaces looking for dark, cool, humid habitats, and plenty of organic matter to eat. They’re particularly fond of moist plant debris in sheltered locations, like beneath thick foliage, under rocks, and near mulch.

No. Although snails need moisture to survive, they’ve evolved to live through hot spells. During hot, dry periods, they hibernate by sealing themselves in with a parchment-like membrane and then attaching themselves to fences, walls, or tree trunks. When the hot spell breaks, they come out of hibernation and resume feeding and breeding.

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