Snails are one of the easiest terrarium pets to get started with.
Inexpensive, small, and famously chill, these slowpokes seem like a natural fit.
That said, as these pets can actually eat the plants inside, they need a slightly different approach than your typical terrarium setup (and perhaps some hardier plant choices).
In this guide, I’ll take you through everything you know to make an easy snail terrarium setup.
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A Simple Snail Terrarium Setup
Honestly, a terrestrial snail terrarium is a relatively simple setup.
Unlike a reptile or insect terrarium, there’s no complicated lighting or heating tech required here. You just need a functional plant terrarium with enough space for them to move around, relax and feed.
That said, though you can technically go pretty barebones with this project, I assume you’d like your terrarium to look nice and natural rather than a mere pot of dirt.
A terrarium full of lovely plants will be far better for both snail and owner, don’t you think?
Choosing and Filling the Enclosure
Okay, just about any clear container will do for the enclosure, provided it can be partially sealed or has some ventilation.
Enough to allow for airflow and gas exchange, but not so much that a potential escapee snail could slip through. They are good climbers, after all!
A glass fish tank with a vented lid is a solid choice that’s easy to get your hands on.
When it comes to container size, it’s largely going to depend on what type of snail you choose and how many you want to keep.
Your basic Garden Snail will need a much smaller home than a Giant African Land Snail, for example (though the latter is a much more complicated – and sometimes illegal – pet to keep).
For the purposes of this guide, I’m going to assume you’re going to house a typical species of land snail e.g., the common Garden Snail or the ever-popular Milk Snail.
A rule of thumb seems to be 1 gallon per snail, but that feels a little on the small side. For the snail and just in terms of having a functional and aesthetic plant terrarium.
I’d start with a glass tank at least the size of a shoebox, but a five or 10-gallon container would be better.
With the container chosen, now we’ll cover what to put in a snail terrarium.
Snail Safe Substrates
First, you’ll need a substrate layer.
As always, I’d recommend a high-quality tropical terrarium mix. Not only will your plants do a lot better in it, but it’s also typically much safer for snails.
Unfortunately, the cheaper potting soil option tends to come with various harmful pesticides and chemicals. It’s just not worth the risk.
- Natural materials like orchid bark and coco coir help to retain moisture and humidity.
- Try to get one as pH neutral as possible too, so I’d avoid materials like peat moss.
Terrarium snails often like to burrow, so be sure to make a substrate layer that can comfortably accommodate your biggest plants’ roots and your snails.
Picking Suitable Snail Terrarium Plants
First things first, these plants are for decor, not food!
Snails need a regular supply of food (think fruits and vegetables), so we don’t need to consider their appetites when we think of terrarium plants.
For a variety of reasons, there are types of plants that snails tend to leave alone. So we’ll be sticking with these. Though I guess you could also add a couple of edible plants as a backup food source.
To start, I’d consult this list from the snail experts.
That way, you can find out what’s safe to plant and what’s likely to be ignored.
From my experience with terrariums, a few species stand out here. The entire Pilea genus is safe, opening up a wide variety of solid species, from the delicate vines of Pilea glauca to the stunning foliage of the Moon Valley Pilea.
As we’re creating a high humidity – and low light – environment for the snails, ferns are a natural choice too. The Asparagus Fern is down as safe, as is the Boston Fern (but I’d opt for the dwarf versions of Nephrolepis exaltata, e.g., the Fluffy Ruffles Fern).
Then, there’s moss.
Moss is an excellent addition to any terrarium, but it can also be particularly useful for snails as it provides a soft cushion for any climbing mishaps…
Finally, I’ve seen succulents recommended online as apparently snails won’t eat them. But remember, succulents require lots of full sun to grow, and snails prefer shade. So they’re not a practical fit for one another.
Snail Terrarium Decor (That’s Safe & Beneficial)
In the case of a snail terrarium, the decor can be both functional and aesthetic.
To start, snails like somewhere to hide. So a chunk of cork bark or a large driftwood branch can provide a convenient and natural-looking spot.
For accents, leaf litter and cones/pods provide a dual purpose in serving a natural woodland look and a bioactive food source (should you choose to add some bioactive bugs).
Finally, you can add any miniature figurines, provided they’re non-reactive.
Mushrooms and fairy houses can complete the Cottagecore look, or you can add dinosaurs if you like – it’s your terrarium!
Things to avoid:
- Hard items like rocks can be a disaster waiting to happen. Snails can be clumsy animals, and a climber that loses its footing can end up cracking on hard stone like an egg into a pan.
- Water bowls are best avoided to prevent snails from drowning. It’s recommended that you simply mist them regularly instead and keep the humidity high.
Springtails and isopods make for good company in a snail terrarium.
They share the same care requirements (high humidity and moisture), and they really come in handy. These bioactive beasties will help clear up any uneaten food and keep mold in check too.
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A snail terrarium is a versatile project.
Whether you’re looking to create a horticultural palace for your pet snail or a simple glass garden, you should be well on your way.
If you’re curious, why not check out our guide to other terrarium pets?