The World’s Departments of Agriculture
"Troublesome" invaders

Helix aspersa
(O.F. Müller in 1774)
On the loose and may be considered dangerous if released in an alien environment!

Life form: mollusc (mollusk)

Where to be on the lookout!

This is a common snail found in gardens, parks, forests, orchards, swamps, marshes and dunes. It is mainly nocturnal in order for it to retain their high body mositure level. It will also be active in damp weather.

Native range: It is native to the shores of the Mediterranean and up the coast of Spain and France. It is found on most of the British Isles, where it was introduced in the first century A.D. by the Romans. (Some say it goes back to the Early Bronze Age.) This variety was introduced into California by French immigrants and has become a serious pest. (TOTSE)

Known Introduced range:
Helix aspersa, or more commonly know as the brown garden snail, are quite a common snail in North America (USA & Canada) , Mexico, South America, Britain, Europe, Mediterranean area, Asia Minor, Australia, New Zealand, many Pacific Islands Some Carribean Islands and South Africa.

Because of it being so common and easy to raise, many of these snail find their ways into "pet" collections.

Names: Helix aspersa


  • The brown garden snail, European brown snail, the French "petit gris," "small grey snail," the "escargot chagrine," or "La Zigrinata." Italy: Zigrinata or Maruzza; Spain: caracolas
  • Synonymous Names: Helix aspersa, Cantareus aspersus, Cryptomphalus aspersus, Cornu aspersum

General Description:

Shell: The shell is large, generally spherical in shape with a short spire. It is rather thin, moderately glossy, and is sculptured with fine wrinkles. In color, it is yellow or horn-colored with chestnut brown spiral bands which are interrupted by yellow flecks or streaks. The turned-back lip is thickened and white in color. Adult shells have four to five whorls and may measure up to 28 to 32 mm in diameter.

Soft body: These snails have pale grey moist skin. At the front end there are four tentacles, the shorter two are for feeling and the longer pair are eye stalks.



Helix aspersa snails contain both male and female reproductive organs ( called hermaphrodites - This does NOT mean that they can mate with themselves, they still require a partner). Since only a small part of a snail's body extends outside its shell, they carriy both sets of genitals--male and female--up front near the head.

These snails will share caresses and this causes a pressure build up in the area surrounding a sac near the genital region which houses a calcium dart. Just before the moment of sexual penetration, the impregnating snail stabs its partner near the genitals with what scientists have dubbed the snail love dart.

When two snails meet during the breeding season (late spring or early summer), mating is initiated by one snail piercing the skin of the other snail with a calcified 'love dart'. The exact purpose of the 'love dart' is not fully understood but it seems to stimulate the other snail into exchanging small packets of sperm. Mating requires four to twelve hours. After mating is complete the snails will produce eggs internally, which are fertilised by the sperm that has been exchanged.

Up to about a month after mating the snail lays about a hundred small fragile white eggs in a nest underground in damp soil. This nest is constructed by the snail, which uses its foot to shovel soil upwards. If the conditions remain suitable for the eggs, snails will begin to hatch after about 14 days. Newly hatched snails have a small fragile shell and it will take takes one to two years for them to reach maturity. Rate of maturity depends on the temperature and humidity levels of where the snail lives.

Life Span:

In optimal conditions, helix aspersa attain a diameter of 16 to 20 mm within one year, and 26 to 33 mm by the second year. They have a life span of 2 to 5 years.

When dry conditions prevail, the snail may seal itself to various objects or close the shell opening with a parchment-like epiphragm. With the advent of humid conditions, the snail again becomes active.

Eating Habits:

Helix aspersa are herbivores and feed on decaying vegetation, algae, fungi, lichens and plant leaves. As a part of their herbivorous diet they often feed on garden plants and are considered by some to be pests.

These snails have a symbiotic bacteria in their crop that enables them to digest cellulose - they have been known to feed on damp paper and cardboard.

They feed by scraping a ribbon-like tongue covered in horny teeth called a radula, over their food. This allows them to scrape algae and lichen from the surface of rocks and walls.

Foods they are know to eat include the folowing:

Vegetables: cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, bean, beet, brussels sprouts, lettuce, mangel, onion, peas, radish, tomato, and turnips.

Cereals: barley, oats, and wheat.

Flowers: alyssum, antirrhinum, aster, balsam, carnation, candytuft, chrysanthemum, dianthus, dahlia, delphinium, hollyhock, larkspur, lilies, marguerite, mignonette, nasturtium, pansy, pentstemon, petunia, phlox, stock, sweet-pea, verbena, and zinnia.

Trees: apple, apricot, citrus, peach, and plum. Shrubs: hibiscus, magnolia, and rose.


1. These snails that some people raise or gather as food are if uncontrolled, agricultural pests that cause considerable crop damage. Introduced snail varieties tend to be worse pests than native species, probably due in part to the lack of natural controls. Snail pests attack crops ranging from leafy vegetables to fruits that grow near the ground, such as strawberries and tomatoes, to citrus fruits high up on trees. Nearly anything growing in a vegetable or flower gardens can be consumed.

Snails feeding on cultivated plants may become serious pests. Enormous populations sometimeseven become established in citrus groves where they cause serious damage to leaves and fruit.

They even are a nuisance around homes where they not only attack gardens but they also destroy ornamental plants.

2. Many of these snails are collected from swamps and marshes for food. Unfortunately, these snails can also carry parasites and other pathogenic microorganisms. They may also be a source of Salmonella poisoning if not prepared correctly.

3. Be very careful before deciding to use the snails from your own back yard or front yard for your next dinner party. Try to ascertain if anyone has used snail bait for eradication of snails in you neighborhood.
Your neighbors may be using snail poison. These snails could then migrate to your yard. REMEMBER! Some snails may only contain very small amounts of poison; so small as to not be lethal to the snail-but there may be enough residual poison that if you consumed enough of these snails IT COULD KILL YOU!
If in doubt, Please choose to be snail smart and buy your escargot from a reliable source or collect in known safe areas. These snails are a major pest and many areas use posions; So, PLEASE BEWARE!

Redeaming Facts:

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

Interesting Facts:

  • When conditions become too dry, these snails will retreat into their shell and seal the entrance with a parchment-like barrier known as an epiphragm. Snails can often be found in this state under rocks in gardens or on a wall in a sheltered corner. When sealed away like this the snail goes into a state of suspended animation and can survive for several months without water. This is know as aestivation.
  • This snail is mainly nocturnal but will emerge after rain during the day. They move about by means of a muscular foot; the mucus secreted by the foot aids with movement and leaves a tell-tale mucous track behind. Helix aspersa have a strong homing instinct. They spend the day, often in large groups, beneath stones and other structures.
  • In the past, teachers have found that these snails were perfect for hands-on instruction for young children, because they couldn't be squished, their digestive tract and heart can be easily seen through their translucent body, they are active, and, as an added bonus, they poop the color of whatever they ate last.
    Unfortunately, the Helix aspersa is also a major agricultural pest so federal agricultural officials have banned the interstate transport of this snail.
    Suggested alternative snails for the classroom: Cepaea nemoralis

Legalities of Keeping Helix aspersa Snails:

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) considers the land snail Helix aspersa to be a plant pest. The USDA in conjunction with the 50 State Departments of Agriculture regulate the transport of Helix aspersa and other land snails.

Due to the brown garden snail, various states in the United States have quarantine restrictions concerning plant materials brought in from other states. The states under quarantine include Arizona, California, Louisiana, Oregon, South Carolina and Washington.

List of Pests Regulated in Canada: Canadian Food Inspection Agency: Plant Products Directorate: Plant Health Division: In order to protect Canada's resource base the following pests are regulated. Pests in this list are linked to the policy directives that are available electronically from 1994 on, but some may also be referred to in directives dated prior to 1994. The list may be revised at any time.
NOTE: brown garden snails are on the list!

World Contacts For Information:

United States of America:

The U. S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is interested in finding these snails, and encourages those using these snails in classrooms, nature facilities, or keeping them as pets to turn them in voluntarily without fear of penalty.

At the present time snails found in the United States have not been shown to be disease carriers. For more information, see the following web site:


By not having these snails as pets or by voluntarily handing in those you may already have and by reporting any wild-found snails to the appropriate authorities you will be helping to control one of the world's most destructive snails. Consequently; you will be part of the solution not the problem and YOU WILL FEEL GOOD!

Good Web Sites for more information:


NOTE: Epiphragm (noun.) Ep´i`phragm: A membranaceous or calcareous septum with which some mollusks close the aperture of the shell during the time of hibernation, or aestivation. (Webster's Dictionary)

This temporary mucus door hardens and covers the aperture (opening)of the snail and this seals the moist soft body parts of the snail safely inside it's shell. This allows the snail to retain moisture for extended periods of time.


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