It’s pretty hard to be afraid of snails. Okay, they’re a little slimy, but they move so slowly it’s hard to get startled by one, and their little antennae make them look pretty cute. But there are some snails I would not be too pleased to stumble across, and today’s animal is one of those.
Giant African snails originate in east Africa, living on islands and the coast. They are found in their native range from Mozambique to Kenya and Somalia. These snails have been introduced to many areas of the world, including China, India, the U.S., and many Pacific and Indian Ocean islands. The giant African snails’ original habitat consists of warm, tropical climates, but they have adapted to many other climates and can live in a range of habitats. If things get too cold for these guys, they can burrow in soft soil and hibernate, and if the weather is too dry, they will aestivate, sealing themselves inside their shells to preserve moisture.
Their size, of course, is what makes giant African snails so intimidating. They can reach lengths of 30 cm, with shells ten centimetres in diameter. The shell is conical, and has different colouration depending on the environment and diet. Most snails have some shade of brown in their shell, with banding making the shell exciting and pretty.
Though they are large, giant African snails are herbivores, and so aren’t too scary. They have an excellent sense of smell, which helps them locate suitable foods. They are not picky eaters, and will eat living or dead plant matter, as well as fruits and vegetables. One of the primary nutrients these snails need is calcium — this supports the growth of their enormous shells. To get the calcium they need, African snails will consume rocks, sand, bones and concrete. So they do eat bones, which is a little creepy.
Giant African snails have the exciting distinction of being hermaphroditic, with each snail possessing both female and male reproductive organs. If two snails of similar size meet, they will exchange gametes, so that both snails become fertilized. If the size difference is too great, the larger snail will act as a female, while the smaller one provides the male gametes.
Like all things snails do, mating is quite slow. There is a courtship period that can last up to a half hour, with snails rubbing their heads against one another and acting pretty cute. Actual copulation between the snails can last for two hours. The snails can lay 200 eggs per clutch, with five to six clutches a year. Snails grow to adult size at six months, and can live for up to ten years.
Because they eat agricultural and garden crops, giant African snails are considered pests in many places. They also harbour parasites that can cause serious infections in humans. On the other hand, if they are cooked properly, giant African snails are a tasty meal and an important source of food for many. Still, most consider this species a pest, and it is listed as one of the top 100 invasive species on the planet. Good for you, giant African snail. You may be frighteningly large, but I can respect your tenacity.
Cover image credit: Alexander R. Jenner via Wikipedia