Snails are vegetarian and will accept many types of food. All snails will avoid plants that have hairy leaves or produce toxic chemicals, like physic nut (Jathropa curcas). Young snails prefer tender leaves and shoots; they consume about twice as much feed as mature snails.
As they get older, mature snails increasingly feed on detritus: fallen leaves, rotten fruit and humus. Older snails should be fed the same items as immature snails. If a change in the diet has to be made, the new food items should be introduced gradually.
What Snails need in Food:
Snails need carbohydrates for energy, and protein for growth. In addition, they require calcium (Ca) for their shells, as well as other minerals and vitamins. Snail meat is low in crude fibre and fat; for that reason, these components are of minor importance in snail feed.
The Recommended food items:
Leaves: cocoyam, kola, paw paw, cassava, okra, eggplant, loofa, centrosema, cabbage and lettuce. Paw paw leaves (as well as its fruit and fruit peels) stand out in many trials as good snail food.
Fruits: paw paw, mango, banana, eggplant, pear, oil palm, fig, tomato and cucumber.
Fruits are usually rich in minerals and vitamins, but low in protein.
Tubers: cocoyam, cassava, yam, sweet potato and plantain. Tubers are a good source of carbohydrates, though low in protein. (Cassava should be the low-cyanide type).
Flowers: oprono (Mansonia altissima), odwuma (Musanga cecropoides) and paw paw.
Household waste: peels of fruit and tuber, like banana, plantain, pineapple, yam and especially paw paw, and leftovers like cooked rice, beans, fufu and eko.
Important Note: Household waste must not contain salt!
Recommendations on Natural Feed:
- Market Waste
Because snails are vegetarians, the cheapest way to feed them is by collecting rejected but recommended food from marketplaces. At the end of any market day, some perishable vegetables and fruits still useful for snail consumption can be collected from the dumping areas.
This would reduce the cost and labor of buying or cultivating vegetables and fruits only to feed snails.
Achatina achatina feeds mainly on green leaves, fruits, tubers and flowers. Unlike other snails, it prefers leaves and fruits that are detached from the main plant. It also seems to prefer wet leaves to dry ones and appears to thrive on pruning’s of food plants grown in pens.
Providing A. achatina with a mixture of foods, rather than only one or two items, will enhance its growth. Food attractiveness is important in the nutrition of this species. If the food is appetizing (e.g. paw paw) or contains a feeding stimulant, the snails will eat a lot and grow quickly.
If food is unattractive or lacks a stimulant, however nutritious it may be, the snails will not eat much of it.
A. achatina baby snails thrive best on leafy vegetables. At all other stages, a diet made up of the following ingredients is recommended:
1. Cocoyam leaves contribute fairly high amounts of protein (2.9%), calcium (60 mg/kg) and phosphorus (52 mg/kg), and moderate amounts of thiamine (vitamin B 1) and riboflavin (vitamin B2).
2. Paw-paw fruit provides moderate amounts of carbohydrates and high amounts of ascorbic acid (which is a feeding stimulant for many plant-eating animals, including snails).
3. The mesocarp (fleshy layer) of the oil palm is high in carbohydrates, fats and palmitate (vitamin A).
4. Supplementary vitamins: Other food plants known to contain moderate amounts of vitamins D, E and K should be added; examples are sunflower and copra cake (vitamin D), wheat germ, lettuce and other vegetables (vitamin E), cabbage and African spinach (vitamin K).
5. Supplementary Calcium: If the soil is not high in calcium, supplementary calcium will be needed. This can be provided by sprinkling powdered oyster or snail shells or ground limestone onto leafy vegetables.
6. Supplementary Minerals: Other minerals can be provided by placing licking stones containing the mineral in the pen.
7. Water: Clean water should be available to the snails at all times.
Studies on Achatina Marginata show similar feeding demands, with paw paw leaves and fruits leading the list. Other common and nutritious feeds are okra, coco yam (Diascorea spp.), banana, cabbage, and even cassava leaves of the low cyanide variety while the Younger snails are fed tender leaves.
Summary recommendations on Natural Feed
- Snails can feed on a large range of food items.
- Looking for thrown-away surplus vegetables and fruits still consumable by snails is a good way to reduce feeding costs.
- Feed containing waxy or hairy leaves should be avoided.
- Paw paw leaves, fruit and fruit peels stand out as excellent snail feed in many feeding trials.
- Feeds should contain protein at a level of about 20% of diet dry matter for optimum development. Paw paw leaves, fruit and peels are a good source of crude protein.
- For strong growth and good shell development, powdered calcium sources from egg shells, limestone, wood-ash, oyster shells (crushed), or bone meal, should be added to the feed at a level of about 15 to 20% of diet dry matter. Crushed oyster shell calcium is best. Increasing the amount of calcium above 20% of diet dry matter results in thicker shells, not in more snail meat. (Note: 20% Ca may seem like a lot, but remember this is a proportion of dry matter and customary snail feeds are made up mainly of water.)
- Snails need water! Most is supplied by the food they consume, but additional water must be supplied in the growing pens: a water-soaked sponge or a dot of cotton wool for hatchlings and juveniles, in shallow dishes (otherwise the snails may drown) for mature and breeding snails.