Slugs (and Snails) as Pets

A banana slug, with the words Keeping Slugs and Terrestrial Snails as Pets beneath it.

This caresheet was originally written in ‘97, and was the first caresheet I ever wrote. Here is an updated version that isn’t formatted like a defunct Geocities site mirror. Most of this information is based on personal experience, with some gleaned from websites, books, and information from those who keep snails raised for food.

Note that this primarily applies to temperate species of terrestrial slugs and snails. It is US-centric since that is where I live. It does not apply to Giant African Land Snails, which are popular pets in other countries but illegal here in the US. For care and keeping of Giant African Land Snails, I suggest finding a species-specific caresheet!

Please note that keeping slugs and snails is not legal everywhere. Some are classed as pest animals and require a permit. Others only require a permit for sales, breeding, or transporting over state lines. Please check your local laws and be a responsible pet keeper.

Supplies:

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A blurry pixelated image drawn in MS Paint showing a slug with anatomy labeled.

Slug Anatomy

Slugs and snails are molluscs of the class gastropod (”stomach foot”). Snail generally refers to gastropods which can full retract into their shells; slugs are those which have no shell, an internal shell, or a very reduced shell.

They sense their world through two sets of tentacles, which they can retract. The mantle covers their genitals and anus. They ripple along using contractions of their foot. 

Their pneumostome, a large opening on the side of their mantle, is how they breathe.

All slugs and snails produce a mucous which helps keep them moist and clean. They shed debris behind them in their mucous, leaving a trail which varies by species.

Slugs and snails do not have teeth. Instead they have a rasp-like radula, which they scrape away at food with.

Many slug and snail species are simultaneous hermaphroditic, able to produce both sperm and eggs at the same time. Some species are able to self-fertilize (apomixis), creating offspring without another present, and this should be kept in mind when keeping them as pets.

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Housing

The home for your slug or snail should be escape proof, large, watertight, and have 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. 

Slugs and snails, as omnivorous detrivores, are high bioload animals. They eat a lot and poop a lot. This means that they need more space than it might seem by size.

Do not overcrowd your slugs and snails! It will make them sick and die.

Ideal is a small aquarium or “critter keeper” style plastic enclosure. 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). 

Another option is a plastic storage tub with holes for ventilation. The lid should be very secure with clips or similar security.

For an aquarium, you should use a tight-fitting screen lid, preferably with locks or clips to hold it in place. Ideally, use the integrated sliding style screen lids. Do not underestimate a slug’s strength or ability to escape! 

Slugs are surprisingly strong for their size, and remarkably squishy, they just sort of push their way out of things. A hole the size of a hole punch is easy for even large slugs to escape through! 

Snails are not as likely to escape through holes because their shells get in the way, but can still push open insecure lids.

A secure lid will also to keep your pet safe from outside forces.

Any holes for ventilation should be very small or covered in mesh. The typical hole created by a soldering iron or drill, typical for keeping animals in plastic tubs, may be large enough for many slugs to escape through, and hot glue should be used to attach fiberglass screen over these holes. 

If you intend to allow your slugs to breed, you will need the very finest mesh or even fabric to keep your baby slugs from escaping.

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Parameters

Temperate terrestrial slugs and snails like cooler temperatures. 60-75 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). Too cold will make them hibernate. If you find your slug contracted, buried, and surrounded by mucous, it may be estivating or hibernating.

They need humidity on the higher side. 50% humidity with humid hides and micro-climates is generally good. Higher spikes (such as when misting) are fine.

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Substrate

An ideal substrate for terrestrial slugs and snails is moisture retentive and resistant to decay, as slugs need high humidity enclosures.

A good option for substrate is Atlanta Botanical Gardens (ABG) Mix. You can purchase this from terrarium stores, or mix your own using recipes found online. Another option are other pre-mixed substrates safe for reptiles and invertebrates available from vivarium supply stores, such as The BioDude’s Terra Fauna, or NEHerp’s Vivarium Substrates 1 or 2. There are many other recipes online for bioactive humid vivariums.

Be sure the substrate you use is free of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Do not use potting soil, even organic. Even organic substrate often has fertilizers, rewetting agents, and other natural additives which may cause problems in a terrarium. If you use soil from outside, it is generally best to sterilize it by baking it in the oven first.

Simple substrates are also appropriate for slugs, but may need to be replaced more often. Coco fiber (Eco Earth), coco chips, long fiber sphagnum moss, and cypress mulch (Forest Floor) are all safe for slugs and maintain the humidity they need.

Do not use pine or cedar shavings. It is toxic to slugs.

Aspen does not hold up in the humidity necessary for slugs.

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Planted Vivs for Slugs

Planting a slug’s enclosure is optional, and difficult to maintain due to the voraciousness of slugs.

If you would like to do a traditional terrarium with plantings, first put a drainage layer (approximately two inches) in the terrarium. This helps protect the roots from getting too wet and rotting. Options for a drainage layer include LECA, NEHerp’s LDL, or Hydroballs. Gravel is another option (such as aquarium gravel) but is very heavy. Over the drainage layer, place a layer of fiberglass screen to keep the substrate from mixing into the drainage layer.

Over this, place several inches of plant-appropriate and slug-appropriate substrate.  

Choose plants appropriate to the humidity and light level of your enclosure. Choose only organically raised plants – remember, pesticides are specifically designed to kill slugs. When planting, bare root the plant, removing all potting soil that came with the plant, and rinse the plants well. For tougher plants, you may want to soak them for 15 minutes in clean water, then give them a two to three minute soak in diluted bleach, then rinse them extremely well. This will remove any possible pests you might introduce to your terrarium.

Keep in mind that your slugs and snails will likely nibble all but the toughest plants, and they may need to be replaced. Tough plants that slugs seem to ignore (mostly) include leathery ferns and bromeliads.

Since you may need to replace them often, you may choose to sink them into the soil in pots, rather than plant them directly. This makes them easy to remove and replace. 

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Bioactive

Bioactive is a good choice for slugs, since they are high waste animals. If you would like to go bioactive with slugs, you will need to use a mixed vivarium substrate. A drainage layer is optional but may be helpful.

Clean up crew appropriate to a slug enclosure includes springtails and various species of isopod. Keep in mind that isopods may prey on slug and snail eggs. 

Springtails are amazing at keeping down mold in humid habitats and I highly recommend them.

I suggest doing more research into bioactive if you wish to keep your slug in this manner.

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Habitat Decor

An image of a critter keeper style enclosure, with colorful plastic houses. A slug is perched on one.

Decor for your slugs doesn’t need to look natural! This is Squelchie’s enclosure.
It includes two plastic hamster hides, one of which is stuffed with damp sphagnum moss.

Decor is important for your slug to self-regulate its moisture needs, and find places to hide. 

You can decorate with rocks, branches and flat pieces of bark. Wood that holds up well in humid enclosures includes ghostwood, manzanita, Malaysian driftwood, mopani, and cork bark. Do not use raw pine or cedar. 

You need not be limited to naturalistic decor, however. Hamster tubes and hides or brightly colored plastic containers make slug mazes, balconies and alleys! Half buried new terra cotta flower pots or plastic flower pots are cheap and effective choices. Glassware is also a good and safe choice. Ceramics work very well but glazes should be food safe, and avoid copper glazes and metal lusters. Make sure that the containers are new or thoroughly cleaned so they do not have any soap or chemical residue.

You can also use fake plastic or silk plants (also sold at pet stores), an easier and less chompable choice than natural plants.

Anything you choose should be appropriate for a humid habitat.

It’s fairly important to have at least one hide; an enclosed plastic container, a flat piece of wood or cork bark, or something similar that the slug or snail can hide under. For snails, cork flats should be elevated at one end by a rock or another piece of wood to accommodate their shell. Natural and artificial hides in the reptile sections at pet stores are quite suitable, as well as plastic rodent hides (which are far less suitable for hamsters than they are for slugs). Slugs and snails hide for safety and moisture regulation.

One very useful natural addition to your terrarium is moss. Sphagnum or terrarium moss at the pet store in the reptile and amphibian section works well. This helps keep the moisture in the terrarium, and create humid micro-climates. Leaf litter, such as oak or magnolia, is also useful, as it helps retain moisture in the substrate.

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Water

Use dechlorinated, distilled, or R/O water. The treatment chemicals in tap water, such as chlorine and chloramine, can kill slugs and snails.

If you choose to treat water with a dechlorinator I recommend Prime or AquaSafe. 

Slugs and snails need to be kept humid and can dry out easily. You should mist the enclosure daily. Their substrate should be kept damp but not wet. 

Don’t put any water dishes or pools in your terrarium. Although its unlikely the slugs would drown (but possible), it’s unnecessary, and quickly gets filthy. Slugs and snails get moisture from the food they eat and from water collecting on the sides when you regularly mist the habitat.

If you want to go all out, an alternative to the mister bottle is a misting set up, such as the Mist King, ReptiRain, or Monsoon system, sold for reptiles and amphibians. It will mist your slug on a timer, freeing you from the chore. 

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Feeding

A slug climbing up a plastic ramp to reach a textured blue ceramic dish with a piece of peeled cucumber.

Squelchie about to eat some cucumber out of their ceramic dish.

Squelchie about to eat some cucumber out of their ceramic dish.

Feed either on a clean flat rock (or slate tile), or a small dish (ceramic, glass, or resin are all appropriate). Slugs often leave a mess where they eat, and this is for cleaning ease.

Feeding your slug is fairly simple and actually quite fun. Slugs and snails should be fed organic produce. Pesticides are designed specifically to kill slugs! If you can’t purchase all organic, it is best to follow these guidelines in choosing which fruits and vegetables are safer when conventionally grown.  Conventionally grown vegetables should be peeled, if possible, as well as washed, before giving them to your slugs. Wash all food, organic or conventionally grown, carefully before giving it to your slugs or snails.

Try all sorts of vegetables, fruits, and plants on your slug or snail. Slugs and snails seem most partial to soft fruits and vegetables such as cucumber, summer squash, and zucchini (sliced); leafy greens like lettuce, mustard greens, and dandelion greens; and fruit like strawberries and peaches. Ornamental plants like hostas, oxalis, and similar are also an option. Different species have different preferences; it’s best to experiment.

Commercial invertebrate food is also an option for feeding slugs. Repashy’s Bug Burger is usually accepted by slugs. Ken’s Premium Veggie Sticks with Calcium are a great choice, especially for snails.

Slugs can also eat small amounts of high protein food like fish food or dog food. Some species need more protein in their diet than others. (Some species are entirely predatory; be sure to look up the species you wish to keep.)

Commercial food should be supplemented with a variety of fresh food.

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.

Be careful not to overfeed.

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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.

Do not use chemicals or soap the habitat or on decor. Soap and cleaning products will kill slugs.

Clean out uneaten food every day. Unless you have a bioactive vivarium with a false bottom or drainage layer, don’t let the habitat develop standing water, or it will start to smell sour.

Rocks and many sticks and bark can be rinsed thoroughly in hot water and baked or boiled to sterilize.

A good choice for a cleaner for slug habitats is vinegar. It can be used diluted as a mild disinfectant. Simply rinse thoroughly afterwards.

In non-bioactive habitats, replace the substrate every month or so. 

In bioactive enclosures with a large enough substrate area to support the inhabitants, with a healthy clean up crew, the clean up crew will keep the substrate fresh for years. However, these habitats are not maintenance free. You will still need to clean above-substrate decor of slime trails and waste weekly. Most CUC do not climb.

Slugs and snails absorb everything through their skin. Do not use hairsprays, spray cleaners, or other sprays around your slugs and snails (even in the same room). 

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Handling

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!

To remove slug slime from your hands, wait for it to dry, and rub it off with a dry cloth, then wash your hands. Adding water will often make the slime worse.

An alternative to touching the slug is using a piece of bark or large leaf to move them.

Wash your hands both before and after handling snails and slugs, as you would (hopefully) with any animal. 

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Breeding

I do not encourage breeding slugs and snails, because they have hundreds of babies that will be impossible to rehome, as well as difficult to provide the right environment for. However, I am including this information as slugs and snails do breed very readily, and a keeper may be faced with babies – even if they only keep one slug or snail, in some cases.

Generally, breeding slugs and snails is as easy as putting together two of the same species, and providing an ideal habitat. 

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 often simultaneous hermaphrodites, meaning that each slug can both produce sperm and eggs. Because of this, any pair can breed. In some species, they are sequentional hermaphrodites, meaning that they will produce sperm in one mating, and receive sperm to fertilize eggs in another mating. 

In certain species, such as banana slugs, apophallation is common. In these cases, the penis of one slug becomes trapped in the other, and they will chew their penis, or their mate’s, off. The slug can still mate as the egg producer in the future.

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% organic material, and 65 to 80 degrees Farenheit (preferably 70 F). Soil moisture levels should be high, about 80% humidity.

Eggs are usually laid within weeks of mating, though some species can store sperm for up to a year (which means that sometimes if you receive or catch a slug it may already be gravid). 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.

Keep in mind many slug and snail species have absolutely tiny offspring, which can get out of the tiniest holes. Mesh as fine as fabric may be necessary to keep them in.

To prevent reproduction, finding and destroying eggs is the easiest choice.

Finally, it may be legal to keep slugs and snails but not breed them. Be sure to look up your local laws on the subject.

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Purchasing Slugs and Snails

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. 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.

Alternately, you may be interested in keeping aquatic snails. Some breed too readily and become pests, but others, like nerite, apple, and mystery snails, are quite manageable. 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.

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A banana slug just peeking its tentacles out.