Identification

Snails and slugs are similar except for the fact that snails have prominent shells into which they can retreat. The shells can be flat or conical, stripy or one colour and their bodies can be anything from almost see-through to blueish. Their shells do give them some protection from the weather and predators, and the colour of the shell may also mean they are camouflaged. Snails have toothed tongues which they use to scrape algae and lichens off rocks.

Size

Vary in size from the garlic snail which has a shell diameter of approximately 6mm to the garden snail which has a shell diameter of 4cm.

Distribution

Many are widespread and common throughout Britain as long as the conditions of shelter, moisture and temperature are right. As a result numerous species are found in a variety of terrestrial habitats including woodlands, hedgerows, sand dunes and gardens.

Status

The UK has around 110 land snail species with fewer species the further north you travel. Eight species of snail are listed as priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan but none of these are likely to be found in gardens or their ponds.

Habitat preference

Woodlands, hedgerows, sand dunes and gardens.

Where to find them in the garden

Most active from March to October, in damp weather and at night. During the day they tend to remain in dark, moist areas of the garden including under plant pots and logs. In dry conditions, snails will go into a period of suspended animation. During this period they can often be in large groups under stones or under plant pots. They seal themselves into their shells with a layer of mucus, which hardens to form a cap. They can spend several months in this state without water. Snails are hermaphrodites but still need to find another snail to mate with. Small white eggs are then laid in batches in damp soil, from which small replicas of the adults emerge.

Role in the garden

Slugs and snails are herbivores. They eat decaying matter, flowers, fruits, algae, fungi and roots which can make them unpopular with gardeners, however it is only a few snail species that are potential pests, including the garden snail. Many perform a vital role in recycling, by feeding on dead and dying vegetation. Enemies include birds, frogs, toads, beetles and hedgehogs.