Snail encyclopaedia

There is probably no garden owner who has not had problems with snails. However, not all snail species are actually pests. Tiger snails and Roman snails, for example, prove to be quite useful. Other types of snails, on the other hand, are a real nuisance, and their elimination can sometimes require a great deal of effort.

On this page you will find a lot of interesting information on the subject and learn, among other things, how snails feed, how they reproduce and what happens to them in winter.

Table of contents

  • Are all snails pests?
  • What do snails eat?
  • Can snails smell anything?
  • Can snails see?
  • How do snails move around?
  • How old do snails get?
  • How do snails spend the winter?
  • When do snails reach sexual maturity and how many eggs do they lay?
  • How do snails reproduce?
  • Do snails already have a house when they hatch?
  • Can snails leave their house?
  • Where do snails stay when it is hot and dry?
  • How high can a snail climb?
  • Do snails that have been taken away find their way back into my garden?
  • How long do snails take to get back into the garden?
  • Which plants can be used to repel snails?
  • Which animal species eat snails or snail eggs?
  • What home remedies help against snails?
  • Are copper bands suitable for slug control?
  • What happens to animals that eat slugs poisoned with slug pellets?

Are all slugs and snails pests?

Basically, you should be aware that, from nature's point of view, there are actually no pests and that every living creature is a component of the natural cycle. This also applies to snails and their eggs, which are an important food source for many animals.

However, the creation of a garden is an intervention in nature and results in a particularly large food supply for snails, so that they can multiply very quickly. In addition, there are far fewer natural predators in gardens than in the wild. For this reason, without appropriate countermeasures, it is only a matter of time before slugs get the upper hand and eat everything bare.

Nevertheless, not all snails are equally harmful to the planting of the home garden. Roman snails, for example, eat slugs and can thus to a certain extent even help to control the annoying pests. Nevertheless, to protect plants it is usually essential to control slugs in the garden and to set up slug fences or slug traps, for example.

What do snails eat?

Snails are omnivores. They are usually not very choosy and feed on both dead and fresh plants. They prefer the most tender parts of plants, which they can easily scrape off with their rasping tongue. In addition to vegetables and fruit, some snail species will also eat live insects such as mosquito larvae or carrion if they have the opportunity.

Can snails smell anything?

Although snails do not have a nose in the true sense of the word, they do have an extremely well-developed sense of smell. With their olfactory cells, they can reliably detect potential food sources. This is also the reason why slug traps with appropriate bait or slug pellets work so well in combating these annoying pests.

Can slugs see?

On closer inspection, dark spots can be seen quite clearly at the ends of slugs' longer antennae. These are in fact their eyes. However, snails cannot compete with the eyesight of humans or other more highly developed creatures. Instead, they can only see a few centimetres away, which can also be seen in the fact that they only retract their antennae late in the day when you approach them with your hand.

How do snails move?

Snails can only move very slowly. To do this, they form a carpet of mucus underneath themselves, over which they can glide and which also serves as protection against sharp edges on the ground.

To crawl forward, snails lift their foot a little at the back. This creates a fold that they let move forward to their head. This process is constantly repeated and ensures that the snail's body slowly glides forward over the slime carpet.

How old do snails live?

The life expectancy of snails varies depending on the species. Vineyard snails can live up to ten years, while the Spanish Way snail, which is widely distributed to the chagrin of many gardeners, normally reaches an age of about two years at most. The life expectancy of very small snail species is often even lower, at about one year.

How do snails spend the winter?

What exactly happens to snails in winter depends on the particular snail species. Many slugs lay eggs in autumn and then die. However, slugs and some species of nudibranchs also hibernate. For this purpose, they retreat into piles of wood, piles of leaves or even small burrows. There they lower their body temperature and thus slow down the function of their organs.

The hibernation period for snails usually lasts from mid or late October until spring. Then, at the end of March or beginning of April, the snails awaken again, emerge from their winter hiding places and, to the chagrin of many hobby gardeners, go in search of food.

When do snails reach sexual maturity and how many eggs do they lay?

Most snails reach sexual maturity within their first year of life. The number of eggs laid can vary greatly depending on the species of snail. While slugs and other nudibranchs can lay around 400 eggs per deposit, Roman snails only lay between 30 and 40 eggs. Regardless of this, snails lay their eggs in early summer and in the course of autumn.

How do snails reproduce?

Most snails are hermaphrodites, possessing both female and male sex organs. They exchange the seeds formed in the male sex organs with each other. Subsequently, the production of female eggs begins.

It then takes between two and ten weeks until the eggs are ripe and can be laid under stones or in small burrows. The eggs continue to develop into so-called egg larvae, from which small snails eventually hatch. Depending on the outside temperature, this process can take a few weeks or even several months.

Do snails already have a shell when they hatch?

Snail species with a house, such as Roman snails, are already born with the necessary equipment for their shell. Their embryo part is surrounded by a tiny shell made of lime, which comes from the mantle of the visceral sac. The lime becomes solid over time and then eventually forms the finished snail shell into which the snail can retire.

As long as the snail grows, its shell also gets bigger and bigger. When the snail is fully grown, the growth of the snail shell also ends.

Can snails leave their shell?

The shell of a snail is firmly attached to its body and therefore cannot be left. Empty snail shells come from snails that have fallen victim to a predator or died of natural causes.

Where do snails stay during heat and drought?

As a garden owner, you know very well that snails are especially active in humid weather. If, on the other hand, it is very hot and dry, they retreat to shady and damp places. These can be compost heaps or small burrows in the soil, for example. Apart from that, large leaves as well as stones and wood piles can also be used by snails as a retreat in dry and hot conditions.

Although high temperatures and a dry environment are not exactly the preferred living conditions of snails, they survive these phases surprisingly well in their hiding places. Heavy rain and the associated prolonged waterlogging, on the other hand, may well cause snails to drown in their retreats.

How high can a snail climb?

Snails are extremely talented climbers. Provided that the ground offers them sufficient support, a climbing height of several metres is no problem at all. Some snail species can even climb up to 20 metres in the forest.

Will removed snails find their way back into my garden?

Some garden owners try to control slugs by collecting the pests and simply releasing them some distance away. Unfortunately, however, this method of slug control is usually only a short-term solution, as slugs can also find their way back over greater distances.

According to studies, slugs, for example, can overcome distances of more than ten metres. It is therefore always possible that the pests do not stay in your neighbour's garden, but return to their original habitat. If you want to get the slug problem in your garden under control, you must therefore take other measures and protect your beds with a special slug fence, for example.

How long do slugs take to get back into the garden?

How long it takes for snails that have been exposed in another place to find their way back into the garden depends on the distance as well as the condition of the environment. On damp paths, snails manage to cover a distance of about three metres per hour.

Accordingly, slugs collected in the evening and left 20 metres away may well return to your garden overnight.

What plants can be used to repel slugs?

There are a number of plants that have a deterrent effect on slugs. These include onions and garlic as well as certain herbs. Experience shows that slugs can be repelled quite well with thyme, rosemary and lavender, for example. Apart from that, ornamental garlic and nasturtium are also known for their deterrent effect on snails.

In addition, it has proven effective to plant the outer areas of beds with plants that are difficult to nibble on, such as houseleeks, stonecrops or spurges. The same applies to plants with hairy leaves. These, too, cannot be easily eaten by slugs, so plants such as cranesbill, geranium and carnation root are also very suitable for planting along the edges.

In addition to the plants already mentioned, poisonous plants such as foxglove, aconite, peonies or lily of the valley are also well suited as protection against slugs, as they are also harmful to them.

Which animal species eat snails or snail eggs?

Snails serve as food for many animals. Both the pests themselves and their eggs can therefore fall victim to a range of predators. These include, among others, various insects, such as fireflies, fireflies, march flies, ground beetles, golden click beetles, carrion beetles, weaver beetles and centipedes.

In addition, numerous bird species also like to eat snails. Among others, thrushes, blackbirds, starlings, rooks, woodpecker tits, herons and magpies are known to have snails on their menu. Ducks also prove to be extremely good snail hunters. This applies to both flying ducks and various running ducks. In order to be able to use ducks as slug hunters in the garden, the appropriate facilities for keeping them must of course be available, which is probably not always the case.

In addition, shrews, moles and hedgehogs also like to eat snails, as do toads, frogs, grass snakes, lizards and various other reptiles and amphibians. By the way, slugs also feed on slugs, so they can certainly play a role in combating their relatives and should not necessarily be regarded as pests.

What home remedies help against slugs?

There are numerous ways to combat slugs and snails. In addition to highly toxic products such as slug pellets, various household remedies have also proven effective. For example, coffee grounds in the bed can help to drive slugs away and at the same time serve as fertiliser for the plants.

In addition, soaked oatmeal and bread, as well as pieces of vegetables scattered outside the beds, can help to keep slugs away from plants. After all, these pests are very sluggish and always eat what is within their reach. In this context, it can sometimes be useful to plant specific plants such as garden cress in vegetable beds to distract slugs from other plants, such as lettuce.

Another possibility is to set up slug traps with beer. These also attract slugs quite reliably. However, the pests often drown in agony in such a trap, so that setting up beer traps is only recommended to a limited extent.

Are copper bands suitable for slug control?

Occasionally it is recommended to use copper bands to control slugs. This recommendation is based on the assumption that copper releases ions that are toxic to slugs in an acidic environment.

Since slug mucus is an acidic environment, copper strips should release ions when they come into contact with a slug and kill the pest. This assumption is not wrong in principle. However, the ions released by the copper are so low that they cannot harm snails.

At best, slug infestation in the garden can be reduced somewhat with copper strips. However, they are not a reliable protection against the annoying pests.

What happens to animals that eat slugs poisoned with slug pellets?

What consequences eating slugs poisoned with slug pellets has for hedgehogs and other animals depends on the active ingredient contained in the slug pellets. If it is metaldehyde, the hedgehog can expect an agonising death.

If you absolutely want to use slug pellets to control slugs, you should therefore rather use products with alternative active ingredients such as iron(III) phosphate. However, we recommend that you give preference to a slug fence for pest control.