snail species

Although the average person thinks a snail is a snail, there are approximately 60,000 species of snails spread over the earth. Many of these are marine species, such as periwinkle or conch; still others live in freshwater. Terrestrial snails, or those that live on land, are those used for what is traditionally known as escargot, simply the French word for snail.

Although there are many species of snails that can be eaten, we will only outline four main species that are regularly consumed or farmed today:

Cornu aspersum
(Helix aspersa):

This the most commonly farmed snail throughout Europe today. Its common name is the common brown garden snail. They’ve been reclassified from Helix to Cornu, though it is still widely known as a Helix (You choose which you prefer! Just know that they are the same

cropped-brown_garden_snail02.jpg
A “non-native, invasive species” in the U.S., Cornu aspersum, reclassified from Helix aspersa, has been documented in this country for at least 150 years. It is now the most commonly farmed species in Europe and elsewhere.

species). Cornu aspersum is native to the Mediterranean and spread to western Europe, but whether deliberately or accidentally, humans have carried it to temperate and subtropical areas worldwide. Due to this adaptability and its mild flavor, this snail is relished as a food item in many areas, but it is also widely regarded as a pest in gardens and in agriculture, especially in regions where it has been introduced accidentally and where snails are not usually considered to be a menu item.

The adult bears a hard, thin calcareous shell 25–40 mm in diameter and 25–35 mm high, with four or five whorls. The shell is variable in color and shade but generally is dark brown, brownish golden, or chestnut with yellow stripes, flecks, or streaks (characteristically interrupted brown colour bands). The body can range from beige to a dark gray, thus the nickname “petit gris” or little gray.

Helix pomatia:

Commonly called by a variety of names including the Roman snail, the Burgundy snail or the vineyard snail. Although this species is highly

Helix_pomatia_89a
Helix pomatia, a Mediterranean native, is located in isolated areas of the eastern U.S., but it’s wild populations are limited in this country.

prized as a food it is difficult to cultivate and rarely farmed commercially. In fact, it is so rare in France that hunting licenses are required when this species is “in season.”

The width of the adult shell, usually a creamy beige to brown, is 30–50 mm. The height of the shell is 30–45 mm. In Europe they tend toward inhabiting fields, vineyards, woodlands or areas with calcareous soil and high humidity and lower temperatures. In the U.S., they are considered an invasive species, even though in actuality they have little effect on ornamental or commercial crops. They have been reported in small populations in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and other spots in the Northeast U.S.

Other snail species of note

Otala lactea:

Known as the milk snail (hence the lactea in it’s Latin binomial) or the Spanish snail, the lactea is not grown extensively but is consumed throughout Spain, Portugal, Greece and other Mediterranean countries and primarily foraged from the wild.

octala lactea
The Spanish or milk snail. A smaller species than H. pomatia or C. aspersum, it is primarily wild collected.

Native to Europe and parts of North Africa, it has been introduced to the U.S., including Arizona and Florida, and to Bermuda, Cuba, southeastern Australia and is considered an invasive agricultural pest. Usually a bit smaller than C. aspersum, it also has a domed shell but much flatter than either the H. pomatia or C. aspersum.

Its shell pattern varies greatly but generally is a beige color with darker brown striping and some variegation.

Lissachatina fulica:

If you want to ensure a visit from federal USDA officials to your front door, then this is the snail for you. But seriously, the Achatinadae family of species, affectionately known as the giant African land snails (or GALS for those in the know), are strictly verboten in the U.S. by our friends at USDA. GALS, originating in equatorial east and west Africa, can have shells that measure

Giant African Land Snail
Giant African land snail (Lissachatina fulica), native to East Africa, and one of America’s “most wanted” criminals.

10-12 centimeters (4-5 inches) and the body can stretch to 22.8-30.5 centimeters (9-12 inches)!

In Africa, there have been concentrated efforts to promote farming using these GALS species. Obviously their size could allow for an easy and large source of protein.

GALS are notorious for having infested many islands and other tropical and subtropical regions, eating their way through agricultural crops, ornamental plantings and even the paint and stucco off houses.

Past incursions in to the U.S., specifically Florida which has a hospitable climate for these critters, have caused extermination campaigns costing in the millions of dollars before the snails took hold. Because of this, GALS are completely forbidden here. So don’t even go there.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. I am interested in snail farming, and doing so in TN. What is the climate needs, how cold can the snails get? We are in zone 7, and feared if they were in a green house, without heat, it would be too cold. What about indoor area that is not heated? Also, in order for a family to eat snails weekly, how many snails would they need to farm at one time? Just curious, Carrie Geren Scoggins 423-458-4248, 7679 Eureka Rd NW, Charleston, TN 37310

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    1. The species used for farming, Cornu aspersum (formerly Helix aspersa) can survive fairly cold winters, though anything under around 50 degree F. causes them to hibernate so if raised outdoors or in an unheated environment, raising them would be a seasonal affair. Their prime temperature for year round breeding and growing is around 70 degrees and up to around 85-90 percent humidity. We can’t really answer your question about how many snails a family would need to eat weekly. This depends on the size of the family, the dish prepared and everyone’s appetites! You can generally assume that 100-110 snails (de-shelled) per pound.

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  2. Aeries says:

    I have always loved snails and ever since I was very, very young i have been collecting them and taking care of them, and then releasing them without even caring. I’d even take their shells off…But now that I am older, i have realized that that was a horrible thing to do.. So I’ve been searching up the endangered species of this world, and I found out that the snails i had been messing around with were very endangered and i cried for hours i felt so bad. No i have been very care full around snails and gentle and rescuing them. If i see a bird or an animal getting close to ANY type of snail, i pick up a rock and through it at them.. I love snails, but cats are my favorite. If you’re wondering what snail I have, it’s a Brown lipped snail.

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