Garden snail (Helix aspersa)

GenusHelix (1)
SizeShell height: 25 - 35 mm (2)
Shell width: 25 - 40 mm (2)

The garden snail is common and widespread (2).

A very common and widespread species, the garden snail is the typical snail you will find in a British garden (1). The shell of the garden snail is generally spherical in shape with a short spire and a 'wrinkled' surface (3). It is pale brown or yellow in colour (3), and is marked with a number of broken dark bands that give the shell a blotched appearance (2). The thickened lip around the large opening, or 'aperture', of the shell is white in colour (2).

The garden snail is found throughout most of lowland Britain (1). Elsewhere, it has a wide distribution, and is found across the Mediterranean area, in parts of western Europe, North Africa, and Turkey (2). It has also been widely introduced and has become established in some areas of the USA (4).

The garden snail is often associated with humans, and can be found in parks and gardens. It also inhabits woods, hedgerows and dunes (3).

Although the garden snail is mainly nocturnal, it will emerge during the day after rain. It moves by means of a muscular foot; the mucus secreted by the foot aids with movement and leaves a tell-tale track behind. It feeds on a range of plant matter and can be serious pests of gardens (4). This snail has a strong homing instinct and spends the day, often in large groups, beneath stones and other structures. It hibernates through the winter in similar locations (5).

The garden snail is a hermaphrodite, meaning that it possesses both male and female reproductive organs; although it is able to self-fertilise, most snails mate with another snail (4). Reproduction takes place in early summer and begins with pairing and courtship. After a period in which the members of the pair caress each other with their tentacles, each snail pierces the skin of its partner with a calcareous 'love dart', a spiny projection which is covered in mucus. The function of this love dart is unclear, but it is thought that the mucus may act to improve the survival of sperm. Mating then takes place; each snail inserts its penis into its partner at the same time (6). The snails separate, and the sperm is stored internally until the eggs are ripe. After the eggs have been fertilised, the snails dig pits in the soil in which to lay the eggs (5). Hatchlings have translucent, delicate shells (4).

The garden snail is edible, and snail farming is currently a booming cottage industry in Britain. This species has also been used for centuries in traditional medicine, for example, broth made from the mucus was used to treat sore throats (7).

The garden snail is not currently threatened.

Conservation action has not been targeted at the garden snail.

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  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (March, 2003)
  2. Pfleger, V. and Chatfield, J. (1983) A guide to snails of Britain and Europe. The Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd., London.
  3. Kerney, M.P. and Cameron, R.A.D. (1979) A field guide to the land snails of Britain and north west Europe. William Collins Sons and Co. Ltd., London.
  4. Brown garden snail: University of Florida Department of Entomology and Nematology (March, 2003)
  5. Janus, H. (1982) The Illustrated Guide to Molluscs. Harold Starke Ltd., London.
  6. Koene, J.M. and Chase, R. (1998) Changes in the reproductive system of the snail Helix aspersa caused by mucus from the love dart. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 201: 2313-2319.
  7. Buczacki, S. (2002) Fauna Britannica. Hamlyn, London.