Snails are a common sight in gardens and backyards around the world. Their slimy trails spark curiosity in kids and adults alike. A question many people have is: Are snails safe to touch? The short answer is yes, with some precautions. Snails can carry some risks, but they are generally harmless if handled properly. This article explores the health and safety issues around touching snails to help you make an informed decision.
What are some key facts about snails and slugs?
Here are some quick facts about snails and slugs:
– Snails and slugs are gastropods, a type of mollusk. There are over 40,000 species worldwide.
– The main difference is snails have an external spiral shell, while slugs have no shell or only a small internal shell.
– Their bodies are soft and covered in mucus to help them move and retain moisture.
– They have two pairs of tentacles – the upper pair have eyespots while the lower pair are used for sensing their environment.
– Most species are herbivores that feed on plants, fungi, and decaying matter. Some larger species may eat worms or insect larvae.
– Snails and slugs need moisture and tend to be most active at night or on cloudy, rainy days.
– They play important roles breaking down organic material and providing food for other animals like birds, rodents, and insects.
– But some slugs and snails can be agricultural and garden pests.
Potential risks of touching snails
While most snails are harmless, there are some health risks to be aware of when touching them:
The mucus that covers snails’ bodies can cause allergic reactions in some people when there is prolonged direct contact with skin. Reactions may include redness, swelling, itching, and rashes. Wearing gloves can prevent this.
Snails and slugs can potentially carry parasites like roundworms and rat lungworm that can infect humans:
- Angiostrongylus cantonensis (rat lungworm) – Causes eosinophilic meningitis. Slugs and snails get infected by eating rat feces containing larvae.
- Brachylaima spp. – Can cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting.
- Angiostrongylus costaricensis – Causes abdominal angiostrongyliasis with gastrointestinal symptoms.
These parasites enter the body through accidental ingestion of slime or plant parts contaminated with slug/snail feces. Washing hands thoroughly prevents infection.
Snail and slug mucus can contain bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. These can cause food poisoning if mucus gets into your mouth from unwashed hands. Proper hand washing helps prevent this.
Snails and slugs in gardens could have been exposed to pesticides and other chemicals toxic to humans. Wear gloves or wash hands after touching them as a precaution.
Are all snail species safe to handle?
No, a few snail species are toxic or dangerous:
- Cone snails – Have a venomous sting that can be fatal to humans.
- Decollate snails – Introduced to control garden snails. They can bite with tiny teeth, drawing blood when handled.
- Giant African land snails – Illegal to own as pets in the U.S. They can carry meningitis-causing worms.
It’s best to avoid touching these species. Most common garden snails in the U.S., like the brown garden snail, are non-toxic and safe to handle gently. When in doubt, don’t touch an unfamiliar snail species.
Precautions for handling snails safely
Here are some tips for staying safe when touching live snails:
- Supervise children and teach them proper handling
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water afterwards
- Wear gloves to prevent direct contact
- Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth during and after handling
- Don’t eat or drink while handling snails
- Cook snails thoroughly if planning to eat them
- Only collect snails from pesticide-free areas
Taking these simple precautions reduces any risks snails may pose.
How to pick up and hold a snail
Here is a step-by-step guide to safely picking up and holding a snail:
- Approach the snail slowly and gently rest a finger on its shell. Sudden movements may cause it to recoil into its shell.
- Once the snail extends back out, place your thumb and forefinger on either side of the shell near the opening.
- Gently lift upwards until the shell tilts off the ground. Avoid squeezing too hard.
- You can hold the shell between your thumb and finger as the snail moves around.
- Make sure to have clean hands and avoid contact with the head and foot.
- Hold the snail over a soft surface in case it detaches from the shell and falls.
- Return the snail to its environment soon so it can get back to its moist habitat.
While snails move slowly, hold them carefully as they can wiggle out of grasps and fall. Don’t handle a snail for too long as it causes them stress.
Benefits of letting kids handle snails
Under supervision, allowing kids to gently handle snails can provide some benefits:
- Sparks interest in nature and animals – Snails are easy, safe animals to interact with outdoors.
- Develops responsibility and empathy – Kids learn to handle snails with care.
- Teaches observation skills – Encourages noticing small details and behaviors.
- Provides a first pet experience – Caring for snails helps kids learn before having other pets.
- Practices fine motor skills – Picking up snails takes precision finger movements.
With guidance from parents, touching snails can stimulate children’s senses and curiosity positively.
Fascinating snail facts
Beyond health concerns, snails have many fascinating traits:
- Snail slime has applications in skincare for its hydrating properties.
- The mucus trail they leave can have a purpose – it marks their paths to food sources.
- Their tiny teeth are on a tongue-like structure called a radula that scrapes and cuts food.
- Certain species can hibernate during cold or dry conditions by sealing their shell opening with dried mucus.
- Some snails are kleptoparasites – they steal food from other mollusks by drilling into their shells.
Snails may seem simple, but have complex bodies and behaviors worth observing up close. Their sticky slime allows them to adhere to almost any terrain as they slowly explore their environments.
Snails and their slippery slime trails can elicit curiosity and uncertainty about whether they are safe to touch. While a few precautions are needed, most snails are harmless and can be handled briefly. Teaching kids to gently pick up snails can lead to discovery about these often misunderstood gastropods. With proper handwashing, snail handling can be an educational experience about nature. So next time you see a snail inch by, consider letting your child engage their senses and shine a spotlight on small wonders in the garden.