What are Terrestrial Snails?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 18 December 2019
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Terrestrial snails are air breathing snails who live primarily on land, although some amphibious snails may be considered terrestrial. Most belong to the order Stylommatophora and they can be found all over the world, varying widely in shape, size, color, and preferred habitat. Humans most commonly come into contact with terrestrial snails in the form of unwanted garden pests, although they are also a culinary delicacy in some regions of the world.

Like other mollusks, terrestrial snails have a shell to protect them from the outside environment, with snail shells being arranged in distinctive spirals. They have a single muscular foot they use for locomotion, producing a lubricating slime to make movement easier, and their eyes are located on stalks. Terrestrial snails can withdraw completely into their shells for safety, and some are capable of producing plugs to keep in moisture or make them harder for predators to access.


Terrestrial snails need some water to survive and tend to prefer habitats with available moisture. They can be found at a number of elevations, and are tolerant of an array of climates. For gardeners, terrestrial snails can be a perennial problem, as these mollusks like eating plants and flowers, as do their relatives, the land slugs. They can damage a garden if they are not kept in check, causing problems with both crops and ornamental plants. Many common snail species are edible to humans, as well as animals like birds, although humans usually like to prepare them in a series of steps to address the slime and bitterness.

People concerned about invading terrestrial snails have a number of options for snail control. These can include scattering abrasive materials around the garden to make it hard for them to cross, laying out bait, or arranging the garden in a way hostile to snails. Baits can be dangerous to pets and other animals, and people may prefer to set out saucers of beer or heavily salted water to kill snails, instead of using poisons. Other gardeners may simply pick and crush snails when they spot them, without taking active control measures.

Some terrestrial snails produce visually interesting shells collected by people, particularly artisans. In regions where snails are consumed, they are kept on snail farms while they are purged, with several days of fasting followed by a special diet. This process is believed to improve the flavor of the meat. Snails may be sold alive and in their shells for preparation, or in preserved form for storage and later use.



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