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Common Snail or Garden Snail

Latin Name: Helix aspersa

The word snail is a common name that can be used for almost all members of the molluscan class Gastropod which have coiled shells in adulthood. Snails which do not have a shell or only a very small shell are usually called slugs. Snails which have a broadly conical shell which is not coiled, or appears not to be coiled, are most often known as limpets.

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One of the most well-known of all terrestrial molluscs, is the Common or Garden Snail. It is native to the Mediterranean region of Western Europe as far north as Britain, however it has been widely introduced elsewhere in the world.

Because of their moist skin, snails are most active in damp weather and at night. As a part of their diet they often feed on garden plants and for this reason are considered by some to be pests.

During periods of activity the head and foot emerge as well as the 4 tentacles on their heads, these can be retracted into their heads. The mouth is located beneath the tentacles and contains a chitinous radula, a sand paper type surface which it uses to scrape and manipulate food particles. Their muscular foot contracts to move the them and secretes a mucus to facilitate locomotion by reducing friction against the surface. It's top speed is 1.3cm per second (47 metres per hour). They have a strong homing instinct and will return to a regular hibernation site.

They are hermaphrodites and have both male and female organs - although they still need another snail to mate with. When two snails meet mating is initiated by one snail piercing the skin of the other with a calcified 'love dart'. The exact purpose of this dart is now fully understood but it seams to stimulate the other snail into exchanging packets of sperm. After mating they produce eggs internally which are fertilised by the sperm that has been exchanged.

It is also a food source for many other animals including small mammals, birds, lizards, frogs, centipedes and predatory insects.

The garden snail is closely related to the edible snail which is commonly used for cooking in France. However the edible snails are usually farmed typically they will be 40-55mm big and weigh 25-45 grams and are typically found in Burgundy, France. When cooked the French way normally with garlic and parsley butter.


Common or Garden snails have a pale grey moist skin. At the front end are four tentacles, the shorter two are for feeling and the longer pair are eye stalks. The shell of these snails is light brown with darker brown bands following the spiral of the shell. The shell colouration varies in its intensity from pale yellow to almost black, it can also have stripes, flecks or streaks.

Animal Facts

In Britain: All year round

Life Span:  About 2-3 years.

Statistics: The adult bears a hard thin calcareous shell 25-40mm in diameter and 25-35mm high.

Habitat: They live in varied habitats and are often found in gardens, parks, forests and dunes.

Food: They are herbivores and feed on decaying vegetation, algae, fungi, lichens and plant leaves. They have a symbiotic bacteria in their crop to allow them to digest cellulose - they have been known to feed on damp paper and cardboard.

Breeding: Most snails can mate when they are a year old. They mate late spring or early summer. A month after mating the snail lays about 100 small white eggs in a nest underground in damp soil. If conditions remain right these will hatch after about 14 days. Newly hatched snails have small fragile shells and take about two years to reach maturity. They will lay eggs as often as once a month.

Conservation Status

Least Concern

Not Evaluated

Distribution: They are common and widespread in Britain and Europe.

Behaviour:  Their moist skin means they are most active in damp weather and at night. When conditions become too dry, they retreat into their shell and seal the entrance with a parchment-like barrier known as an epiphragm. When sealed away like this the snail goes into a state of suspended animation and can survive for several months without water. They can often be found in this state under rocks in gardens or on a wall in a sheltered corner.

Common snails feed by scraping a ribbon-like tongue covered in horny teeth called a radula, over their food. This allows them to scrape algae and lichen from the surface of rocks and walls. You can sometimes see the trails they leave behind as they eat their way through the algae on a damp wall.

Conservation Status: They are very common and have not be evaluated.


See Also:

We have a project page on photographing snails with very many more pictures of the Garden Snail.

For more information on snails, both land and water snails, snails in cuisine (popular in many parts of the world) and cultural depictions. Wikipedia Link.

Snail Racing is a sport - find out more. The World Snail Racing Championships take place each year in July, at the Cricket Field in Congham, Norfolk in the UK. See this link for the winners of the latest competition.


By: Tracey Park Section: Molluscs Key:
Page Ref: garden_snail Topic: Wildlife and Animals Last Updated: 05/2009

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