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The slime trail of the brown garden snail (Cornu aspersum) leads to the remnants of your just sprouted garden vegetables. Imported from France for culinary uses, the brown garden snail is only one of 25,000 snail species. Arriving on produce, aquatic plants or deliberately imported, snails have escaped and infested gardens across the country. A variety of snail predators can help you reduce the snail invasion.
While humans (Homo sapiens) prefer their snails cooked with plenty of garlic and butter, other mammals such as the northern short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda), American shrew mole (Neurotrichus gibbsii), coast mole (Scapanus orarius) and western European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) voraciously hunt live snails. Shrews are particularly aggressive carnivores, eating up to three times their body weight daily. The northern short-tailed shrew also stores food for the winter, stockpiling a variety of seeds, nuts, beetles and, of course, snails.
Both domesticated and wild birds eat snails. If the yard or garden is infested, allowing chickens (Gallus domesticus), ducks (Anas platyrhyncha) and geese (Anser cygnoides) to forage freely quickly reduces the snail population to a manageable level. The Florida applesnail (Pomacea paludosa) is an important food source for the Everglades kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis plumbeus Ridgway). Other waterbirds such as the wood stork (Mycteria americana) and whooping crane (Grus americana) also eat a variety of snail species in their breeding grounds and during annual migrations.
Placing a broken clay pot upside down and keeping it moist attracts toads (Bufo spp.) and spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) to the garden, where they eat snails and other pests. Other reptiles that hunt and eat snails include the common box turtle (Terrapene carolina) and the garter snake (Thamnobis sirtalis). Reptile enthusiasts who keep turtles and snakes as pets can supplement the reptiles' diets with garden snails. However, use caution when harvesting snails. Avoid any garden or yard where pesticides or snail bait may be used; the poisons could kill your scaly pets.
Other Snail Predators
Among the most vicious snail predators are other snails. The decollate snail (Rumina decollata) is used in southern California's citrus orchards as a biological control for brown garden snails (Cornu aspersum). Another predatory snail is the rosy wolfsnail (Euglandina rosea), which was imported to Hawaii to try to control the invasive giant African snail (Achatina fulica). Beetles, including the devil’s coach horse (Ocypus olens) and boat-backed ground beetles (Schaphinotus spp.), also attack and eat snails, leaving the empty shells to litter the ground.
- University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program: Snails and Slugs
- The Living World of Molluscs: Enemies of Terrestrial Snails
- National Gardening Association: Snails and Slugs
- Animal Diversity Web: Blarina Brevicauda -- Northern Short-Tailed Shrew
- Animal Diversity Web: Neurotrichus Gibbsii -- American Shrew Mole
- Animal Diversity Web: Scapanus Orarius -- Coast Mole
- Animal Diversity Web: Erinaceus Europaeus -- Western European Hedgehog
- Oklahoma State University Department of Animal Science: Scientific Names of Domestic Animals
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Common Name -- Applesnails of Florida
- Animal Diversity Web: Mycteria Americana -- Wood Stork
- Animal Diversity Web: Grus Americana -- Whooping Crane
- Penn State New Kensington: Species Pages -- Bufo Americanus
- National Gardening Association: How to: Control Slugs and Snails
- Clemson University Upstate Master Naturalist Program: Land Snails of the Great Smoky Mountains
- Arkive: Common Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina)
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Snail-Eating Snails of Florida, Gastropoda
- Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images