A slimey best friend!
You may be interested in keeping your own pet slugs. The easiest way to do so is to adopt a CyberSlug for your webpage, but you may want to keep a real one as a friend for a while. Here you will find brief instructions on keeping pet slugs, or their cousin mollusk, the snail. I've kept both, and much of this information is based on personal experience, though some comes from various books I've read over the years.
What you need:
The home for your slug or snail should be escape proof, large, watertight, and have good ventilation. For a single, small slug (1" or under), a large canning jar (1 gallon or more) will work for a short time, but they should be moved to something better as soon as possible.
Do not overcrowd your slugs and snails! It will make them sick and die.
Ideal is a small aquarium converted to a terrarium with a screen lid. The perfect size for a couple small slugs or snails would be five or ten gallons (banana slugs and other large species need a lot of space and a 10 gallon minimum). They also sell plastic "critter keepers" that would work great. You can buy screen lids at the pet store for small animals. Some of them even come with locks. Slugs are surprisingly strong for their size, and remarkably squishy, they just sort of push their way out of things. You could also put a brick or rocks on the top at each corner to keep the slugs in. Snails are not as likely to escape because their shells get in the way, but the lid is also to keep your pet safe from outside forces.
Glass tops, partial or complete, are highly recommended as long as they are secure. This will help keep the humidity in your mollusk's tank high.
Some people also have success keeping their snails or slugs in Rubbermaid and similar storage containers with holes punched in the lid. Make sure the lid is secure. The main problem with these containers is that they are often opaque and that makes it hard to monitor your slug or snail (or even just admire them!).
Any holes for ventilation should be very small or covered in mesh. If you punch large holes in a jar or tub lid, you can put the lid back on over a layer of cheese cloth (replace often) or fine mesh (hardware cloth, or window screening). If you punch holes in a metal lid (such as with a hammer and nail -- wear safety goggles!), make sure you punch them from the inside out, so that the sharp parts are on the outside, not where the slug would slime over them and hurt itself.
I recommend against using copper mesh, or any copper in the aquarium. Interestingly, slugs don't like to crawl over copper, as it is uncomfortable for them. Actually, this is a great way to keep them out of gardens and the like. They sell copper tape at gardening stores, and you can tape it all along the edge of a raised garden bed. It's a humane way of discouraging slugs from your vegetables. It may even work to keep a slug in a terrarium without a lid, but I would only experiment with this outside, so if the slug DID escape, it would simply be loose in its own world, rather than in the parched desert of a house where it would die. However, for the most part, in an aquarium you want them to be able to crawl anywhere they'd like.
For a traditional terrarium with plantings, first put a layer of gravel (1/2" to an inch) in the terrarium for drainage. This helps protect the roots from getting too wet and rotting. You can also put some activated charcoal under the gravel to help keep smell down. Then line the terrarium with dirt. You can make it fairly deep, four to six inches. It's best to use dirt from where you found the slug or snail, though potting soil will do in a pinch -- make sure it is pesticide free! Some companies add all sorts of slug-killing products to their potting soil.
Native plants (from the slugs native habitat) are best for plantings. You can plant them along the back to provide a beautiful backdrop to your terrarium. Keep in mind that the slug or snail will probably nibble them and they may need to be replaced often. You can plant them directly into the soil, or sink their plastic pots (with drainage holes) into the dirt completely for ease of removal and cleaning, or even just set potted plants in the back of the habitat. Do not use nursery grown plants in your habitat, as they may have been treated with anti-slug pesticides!
Do not dig up any endangered or rare species of plants.
Instead of the traditional planted terrarium, you can use a reptile bedding meant for reptiles and amphibians from a damp habitat, often sold with names such as "forest floor" or "jungle substrate". This often looks like shredded bark or dark damp soil. Coconut fiber also makes a good base. If it says it's for moisture loving or tropical reptiles, it's probably suitable for a slug or snail. Using a bedding instead of a planted terrarium is easier to clean -- simply dump the old bedding and replace with new every month or so, or more often if it begins to smell.
Do not use pine, cedar or other softwood bedding.
After you've got a good substrate, you can decorate the terrarium how you want to. You can decorate with a few rocks, branches and flat pieces of bark. You can make it look natural, or be creative and artsy. For example, hamster tubes or brightly colored plastic containers make slug mazes, balconies and alleys! You can also use fake plastic or silk plants (also sold at pet stores).
It's fairly important to have at least one flat branch, piece of wood or bark slightly elevated at one end (for example, resting on a rock) that the slug or snail can hide under. For snails, it will have to be larger than for a slug, since it must accomodate their shell. They sell natural and artificial hidey holes in the reptile sections at pet stores that are quite suitable. You can even use many small animal (hamster, rat and mouse) homes that they sell, if they're made of plastic or another waterproof material, or natural wood or fiber (though it may need to be replaced if it gets ruined by the moisture). Dyed wood may be harmful to your slug or snail. Slugs and snails hide for safety, and even if nothing's going to get them in your man-made environment, they'll do it if they can.
Your terrarium doesn't need to look natural, but you may want it to look that way, to mimic the slug's native habitat. If you don't want to go mucking around outside to find the ideal branches, rocks and plants, you can use things like pieces of untreated lumber to create a hiding place. The slug doesn't really care what it looks like.
One very useful natural addition to your terrarium is moss. You should have some moss, preferably quite a bit, on the dirt in the terrarium, or even on the various levels of the terrarium or hanging off branches if you set it up that way. You can either gather some wild moss, or you can buy sphagnum or terrarium moss at the pet store in the reptile and amphibian section. If you purchase it, make sure it has not been treated with chemicals or pesticides! This helps keep the moisture in the terrarium, because slugs and snails like it damp.
Don't put any water dishes or pools in your terrarium. Although its unlikely the slugs would drown, it's still unneccesary, and would get dirty and smelly. Slugs and snails get moisture from the food they eat and from water collecting on the sides when you regularly mist the habitat.
I recommend finding a flat rock (or board) that you can feed your slug or snail on, or using a low, flat dish (such as sold for reptiles and amphibians, often made of resin). This is for cleaning ease. If you just scatter the food in the terrarium, some of it may go bad and get smelly and rotten.
Slugs and snails can get sick from tap water (the water that comes out of your faucets) because of the chemicals added to it. You must use dechlorinated water, bottled spring water, or aged tap water. You need to age any tap water you use for your slug or snail. To do this, put the water in a bucket or open container, and let it sit for about a week, covered lightly with a cloth. The chlorination, which is poisonous to slugs and snails, especially since they partially absorb water through their skin, will evaporate. You can also use dechlorination drops, available at your pet store, to make this process go faster and remove other harmful additives. You purchase such drops in the fish section; ask a pet store employee which are best. Follow the instructions carefully.
Keep a mister bottle (spray bottle; you can find them either at the pet store or in the hair care section of the grocery store) filled with safe water near your slug's or snail's home. Do not use a mister bottle that previously had been used with a chemical like hairspray; it's best to buy a new one for your slug. Everyday, mist the slug's or snail's habitat so that it's damp but not wet. Use the fine mist setting. Spray leaves, moss and rocks or other furniture. This is where the slug will get its moisture. Be sure the slug does not get too dry. Dry conditions kill slugs!
If you want to go all out, an alternative to the mister bottle is a misting set up, which is sold for lizards which will only drink dew and misted water, and can be purchased at a pet store. This will automatically mist your habitat (and also looks cool).
Feeding your slug is fairly simple and actually quite fun. Make sure the food you're feeding the slug has not been sprayed with chemicals. After all, many of those chemicals were manufactured specifically to kill slugs! Home grown and organic foods are the best. Even so, wash all food carefully before giving it to your slugs or snails.
Try all sorts of vegetables on your slug or snail. Some favorites are kale, cucumber (slice it so its easier to eat), lettuce (NOT iceburg; romaine, green leaf, and red leaf are good), bok choy, mustard greens, chard, and other leafy stuff. Anything you notice slugs have been munching in your garden is good too. Some individual slugs and snails will devour one thing that others avoid or vice versa. You can give them things like flowers and other ornamental plants that you notice "wild" slugs have been eating. Hostas are a particular favorite! Nasturiums, primroses, dandelions, nettles and oxalis are also great plants to give your creatures. Avoid marigolds. Fruits are also good for your slug or snail. Strawberries are devoured with relish. Slicing or cutting vegetables makes them more desirable. Slugs will often eat decaying plant matter, so veggies that are a bit wilted are fine. They will often eat the parts of the fruit you discard from your own meal, such as the tops sliced off strawberries. Try to feed a variety.
Slugs and especially snails must have a piece of cuttlebone (find it at your local petstore, in the bird section) to gnaw on and keep their shells strong. A calcium powder purchased at the pet store and sprinkled over the food is another option, and some people even feed them crushed tums.
Other Care and Cleaning
You will need to keep your slug's habitat clean or it will begin to smell rancid and also attract pests like fruit flies. Clean out uneaten food every day. Don't let the habitat develop standing water, or it will start to smell sour.
In habitats with a reptile/amphibian substrate, replace the substrate every month or so. With planted dirt terrariums, remove a layer off the top of the dirt and replace it with new every few weeks.
With a natural planted terrarium, you must dismantle and clean the entire habitat every so often (every three months or so). Replace the dirt with clean, fresh dirt, replace the gravel and moss, clean out plants that have died, and wash your slug's furniture. One way to clean rocks, sticks, bark and the like is to rinse them off with hot water, and set them outside on the grass. The chlorophyll in the grass and the sun will take away any bad smell. Don't leave it on the grass in one place too long because it will kill the grass. Do not use chemicals or soap on any slug furniture that is porous (wood, some rocks, etc.). On plastic and similar materials RINSE VERY THOROUGHLY after using soap on them, with hot water, at least twice, drying inbetween rinsings! An alternative to washing found objects such as sticks and rocks is simply to replace them.
Slugs like cooler temperatures. Too warm will make them sick. 50-70 degrees, depending on where you got your slug or snail, is a good bet. Hot, dry weather will cause slugs and snails to die, or to go into estivation (inactivity during hot weather, sort of a summer version of hibernation). However, don't let them chill. The wrong temperature may make them go into hibernation.
Don't use hairsprays, aresols or other sprays around your slugs and snails (even in the same room). They will absorb it through their skin and it can kill them.
If ever you decide you can't care for your slug or snail, return it to exactly where you found it. Don't just let it go anywhere. Catch, observe for a time and release is a very kind way to keep slugs and snails. If you purchased your slug or snail, do not let it go. It is against the law, and bad for the environment.
The first thing to keep in mind is that mating can be very hard on your slug or snail, and some (about a third) do not survive after laying eggs. Keep this in mind if you intend to keep more than one slug or snail together. Most of this information is gathered from breeding snails (which are kept in captivity and bred as a food source for humans) but much of it applies to slugs as well.
There is no guarantee your slugs or snails will breed, but if they do so it will generally happen when the conditions in their habitat mimic those of late spring and early summer in their native environment (temperature, humidity, and length of daylight).
Slugs and snails are hermaphrodites, meaning that each slug has both male and female parts. Because of this, any pair can breed. Some slugs and snails will act as a male one time and then a female the next time they mate. Other times, both will play both rolls at once and fertilize each other simultaneously (which makes for a LOT of babies!). Many species can even reproduce when alone, and even if you keep only one slug or snail, you may be surprised by eggs!
If you intend to breed your slugs or snails, they should have deep, loose soil to lay their eggs in (at least two inches deep). They dig holes and lay 30 - 90 eggs in them. Some lay in one hole, others dig several holes and distribute their eggs. The genital opening from which they lay their eggs is right behind their head. Slugs and snails will not be able to lay their eggs in soil that is too heavy (such as clay), or too dry. Soil should be 20 - 40% orcanic material, and 65 to 80 degrees Farenheit (preferably 70 F). Soil moisture should be high, about 80%.
Eggs are usually laid within weeks of mating, though the snail can hold off for a whole year. It can take them a day or more to lay their eggs, and sometimes they take a break between laying, up to several weeks. Eggs hatch anywhere from 10 to 30 days after laying (varying by species, temperature and other factors).
Baby snails especially need a good source of calcium! They need it to grow their shells. They can grow very fast so slugs and snails need plenty of food and calcium in their youth.
For more detailed information, read Raising Snails, from the National Agricultural Library.
Slugs and snails are delicate creatures. Even the snail's shell is fragile. Handle them gently, if at all, and always with freshly washed, clean hands that are wet with water, free of hand lotion or perfume. Do not attempt to peel them off furniture or the sides of their terrarium unless absolutely necessary. To peel them off, spray them with your misting bottle, then gently slide your hand under their heads and body. Do not grasp them by their shell or back and pull!
One of the most common questions I get asked, especially in the winter, is where one can purchase terrestrial slugs and snails. There is no easy way to do so.
Selling and buying most terrestrial slugs and snails is regulated by the government. In order to buy or sell them in many states, you must have a USDA permit (available for download from Carolina Biological Supply). If you do wish to apply for such a permit (and succeed in getting one), you can then purchase the land slugs and snails specified in your application from biological supply companies such as Carolina Biological Supply or Niles Biological Supply".
I generally suggest waiting until spring and finding some yourself. Not only is it much easier and free, but if you end up being unable to give your pet slug or snail the best care, you then have the option of setting it free. (Do not ever let purchased snails or slugs go in the wild!)
Alternately, you may be interested in keeping aquatic snails. Some breed like crazy (and then you're faced with what to do with the offspring) but others, like the apple and mystery snails, are quite managable. Most have no regulations attached to their purchase or sale, and many can be acquired at a local pet shop. Mystery snails even come in a variety of colors. If you are interested in purchasing and keeping an aquatic snail, Applesnail.net has excellent information on caring for them.
This page and the CyberSlugs, 'Snails and 'Shrooms © 1997-2007 Tserisa Supalla
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