Super snails

Despite its hefty size, the Giant African Land Snail is considered an ideal pet because it requires very little maintenance.

It is a curious fact that the Jerusalem Zoo's Small Animal Exhibit houses the largest example of a familiar animal, the humble snail. Growing up to 20 cm. in length, the Giant African Land Snail is the largest of its kind in the world and is almost big enough to trip over. As its name suggest, the Giant Snail comes from Africa where they thrive on all kinds of vegetation in tropical climates. These nocturnal creatures slither around on a single slimy foot heaving their gigantic shells around on their backs. Like all of their species, Giant African Land Snails are hermaphrodite, meaning they carry both male and female reproductive organs, although it takes a pair of snails to mate. Once they do reproduce, they do so copiously, with each snail laying anywhere from 50 to 200 eggs in each batch. The eggs are about 3 mm. in diameter and can easily be seen scattered around the floor of their exhibit at the zoo. Within two to three weeks the eggs hatch and the baby snails lose no time in eating and growing. An adult snail eats roughly two lettuce leaves a day, each of which may be twice its own body length. Giant Snails can live for six or seven years and those at the Jerusalem Zoo are about four years old. To keep their shiny shells in top condition the snails require large amounts of calcium. Wild snails feed on the shells of their deceased companions but at the zoo they are fed cuttlefish bones. Tiny teeth arrayed along each snail's tongue, called radula, enable the snail to saw through the bones and obtain the necessary calcium. Animal collectors seeking a pet that is both exotic and easy to care for have brought Giant African Snails all across the world. Despite the snails' surprising size, collectors consider the snails ideal pets because they require very little maintenance. If left unattended and unable to find the food and moisture they need to survive, the snails lock themselves in their shells behind a translucent pearly-white slime that dries into a brittle door. The snails can survive for up to eight months without nourishment before emerging unharmed at the first hint of moisture. Although the snails can survive in tropical climates, in some areas of the world escaped snails have became a major pest by multiplying their numbers and destroying local plants and crops. However, those who cringe after inadvertently crushing a snail underfoot need not fear the horror of stepping ankle-deep into an escaped Giant African Snail: The Middle Eastern climate is too harsh for these giants to survive.