Whether to build a terrestrial snail’s vivarium or an aquatic snail’s aquarium, the first hurdle every beginner hobbyist faces is deciding what substrate to choose from.
Although snails can thrive in even the most grotesque of conditions, don’t let this be an excuse to keep them in subpar environments.
So, in this episode of snails, I will thoroughly cover the ABCs of choosing a substrate for your snails, along with two methods to make DIY substrate, so you get a headstart right away.
We will first focus on the substrate for terrestrial snails before discussing our options for the aquatic ones.
Which Substrate Is Necessary For Land Snails?
Any substrate that keeps the habitat damp is suitable for your land snails. A perfect substrate would be store-bought eco earth coconut fiber substrate or a potting soil topped with sphagnum moss. For calcium supplement, sprinkle some cuttlebone powder over it.
A fair number of snail keepers use garden soil in their snail habitat. But some shun the idea of putting natural soil as worms and critters can tag along with the substrate.
However, most earth-dwelling invertebrates found in the garden soil are snail-friendly. In fact, they help maintain a healthy soil ecosystem.
They aerate the soil by maintaining a balance of calcium and phosphorus, indispensable in a snail’s habitat.
But there can definitely be some drawbacks to using natural soil for your snail’s substrate.
- First is the infestation of hitchhiking critters.
- Garden soil has a heavier texture and can make it hard for snails to bury themselves.
- Garden soil does not have perlite or vermiculite, the necessary minerals to hold water for a longer duration.
But not all of us prefer garden soil as a substrate for our snails. So, here’s a list of alternatives that you can use in preparing a vivarium worthy of your pets.
Tropical substrate, also commonly known as the eco earth loose substrate, is the one that is widely used by most snail keepers. It is made up of coconut coir (fiber). It not only works as a substrate for snails but also comes in handy if you have reptiles, amphibians, and other invertebrates.
- It moistens the habitat by soaking water and retaining it efficiently, which helps expand the substrate and spread the moisture evenly.
- It is soft and can provide a cushioned landing if your snails fall while climbing the glass.
- Its soft texture makes it easy for your snails to dig and bury themselves.
These days, many hobbyists prefer keeping sphagnum moss in their snail tanks. It is an excellent humidifier that works best, especially during incubation.
However, you shouldn’t treat it as your primary substrate. It serves more as a topping instead of a foundation. Place it over the tropical or garden soil to get a more sticky layer.
It has been found that sphagnum has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, making it even more the right choice to keep in a snail tank.
Aesthetically, it gives your enclosure an arid look but serves as a great humidifier.
Furthermore, it has a much softer texture than soil, allowing your snails to hide under it. Also, your snails will have a soft cushion to land on if they ever fall off the glass.
And if you plan to grow plants inside the terrarium, you will be glad to know that moss promotes plant growth and mimics natural settings.
But bear in mind that you will have to replace it in a short time to prevent an ammonia spike in the tank.
I have been using this sphagnum moss from Zoo Med, a well-trusted brand among reptile and amphibian hobbyists. This works fine for my snails, too. And you can grab one while the offer lasts. Definitely a bang for one’s bucks.
Leaf litter has the same benefits as sphagnum moss – it promotes plant growth, has a soft texture, and provides shelter for your slimy critters.
As a matter of fact, leaf litter is the substrate that mimics your pet snails’ natural habitat the best. Decomposing litter discharges subsistence in the soil, keeping it moist. Everything from pieces of bark to twigs and leaves can be used as litter for your snail tank.
It will bring the elements from the wild such as fungi and bacteria, which will help to enrich the tank’s biodiversity.
But that’s not the only benefit.
You can raise worms, spiders, other small critters, and snails in the same habitat. This is why leaf litter is preferred by those who like to keep all sorts of creatures.
Personally, I would recommend you mix both sphagnum moss and leaf litter. Sphagnum moss keeps your tank humidified, and leaf litter supports healthy biodiversity.
You might have seen this type of substrate recommended for snail tanks by many on the internet. So, what’s the catch of using potting soil as a substrate? Is it the perfect substrate for snails?
Potting soil is actually used for growing plants in a pot. Various constituents go into making this kind of soil. This mixture is made in such a way that it prevents soil condensation (compactness).
To name a few, the essential organic components that go into the making of potting soil are sphagnum peat moss, manure, bat guano, compost, poultry litter, and earthworm castings.
These mixtures are lightweight and can retain moisture for a longer duration. So, what benefits plants also benefits snails.
By the way, if you are wondering if you can make potting soil in your home, there is more than one way to do it.
The Classic Method
- Get regular garden soil, coconut coir, and builder’s sand.
- Mix them in the following ratio: 50% garden soil, 25% coconut coir, and 25% construction sand.
- Add cuttlebones for calcium.
This method is one of the easiest ways to prepare potting soil substrate for your snails.
The Soil-less Mix Method
You can make this potting mixture if you don’t want to use garden soil.
- Get peat moss, coconut coir, or mature compost.
- Mix the ingredients evenly.
- You can add perlite. This helps absorb water quickly, keeping the mixture moist.
- Add cuttlebones to supplement calcium, a beneficial nutrient for your snails.
- Some like to add limestone, but you have the option to choose.
But if you don’t want to go through all that ordeal, get a potting mix from a quality supplier like Wonder Soil.
I recall my beginning days of reptile keeping, I used to buy the regular peat moss for reptiles from a pet store. But they came in a teeny amount. So, I resorted to using gardening potting soil and have never looked back. So, here’s what I use now for my snails.
What Kind Of Substrate Shouldn’t You Use In Your Snail Tank?
Not all substrates are made equal for your snails, especially the acidic ones that dry up too quickly and harbor pests and diseases. Also, avoid using garden soil if you use pesticides. This can also have detrimental effects on your pets.
Here are some of the red-flagged substrate types that I would advise you to avoid:
Snails have a hard time adapting to an acidic environment. The higher the number of crucial nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and calcium in the soil, the higher the alkaline level.
This is why I advise many beginners to add cuttlebones to the potting soil, as it is an excellent calcium source.
Like all acidic elements, soil acidity is measured on the same scale, between 1 and 14. So if the substrate you are about to use reads below 7, it is considered acidic. And anything above 7 is alkaline or basic.
Usually, the peat bogs used in making substrate have high nitrogen synthetic fertilizers, making them more acidic.
Also, if there’s a more significant proportion of manure or poultry-based litter in the soil, it leads to an ammonia spike and, subsequently, a rise in soil acidity.
Beach sand, mud, hard clay, and other fine-grained sediments are some substrate types you shouldn’t use for your snail tank.
Snails need a humid environment to maintain the water level in their bodies. So, choose only those substrates that can hold and retain water.
Snails like to dig and burrow. However, the dry substrate types aren’t ideal as they are hard for snails to dig and bury themselves in. So using such substrate only limits your pals from having the best life possible.
Also, these substrates hardly allow any microorganism to grow on them, making them not worthy for your esteemed friends.
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Substrate For Aquatic Snails
Unlike the terrestrial species, you need not bother much about substrate for aquatic snails. You only need to choose from two substrates: gravel and sand.
Let me brief you on each.
These tiny pebbles are popular in the snail-keeping community (Yes, we do exist!).
The benefit of this kind of substrate is that it allows more effortless locomotion. And they look great too, especially the colored ones.
However, there are a few letdowns of using gravel as a substrate.
First, the food makes its way through the cracks in between the stones. Only the smaller snails are likely to creep into tiny crevasses, whereas the big boys like the mystery snails will have difficulty reaching there.
Secondly, some tiny snail species get buried under the stones and might find it challenging to come out. So you will find your snails absent from the scene for a couple of days. But fret not; they will eventually figure their way out.
It is particularly great if you have a community tank that houses all sorts of fish and snails. Here’s one that I got from Miukada. Initially, I was skeptical about using it for my fish tank. But now I have only good things to say about it.
Also, I haven’t found a significant amount of leftovers while cleaning. So, it wasn’t as bad as I presumed.
Most snails love digging. So, having a sandy substrate helps. Also, the food you serve won’t disappear as it does in the gravel. This allows you to give the right proportion of food to them.
But choosing the substrate can be tricky if you keep snails with fish. Most fish don’t dig like snails unless you have corydoras who love to bury themselves.
Normally, sand for aquariums comes in small packages which might get costly if you are keeping larger tanks. So, you need to get something like pool filtering sand that comes in bulk and is eye-pleasing. Something like this from Fairmount Santrol.
So, which substrate should you choose for your aquatic snails? Sand or Gravel?
I recommend you choose sand because most snails like to hide under it. However, cleaning sandy substrate can be tedious, and the upkeep cost goes comparatively higher. Nevertheless, your snails prefer sand to gravel.
Substrate for snails depends upon the species you have in your care. For terrestrial species, you might want to get substrate that retain water easily, keeping the habitat moist.
A popular substrate for terrestrial snails is the potting soil, mixed with crushed cuttlebone and topped with sphagnum moss.
And for aquatic snails, you can either use gravel or sand.
Some snails, like the ramshorns, dwell below the substrate, so the sandy underlayer would be ideal. That being said, not all water snails stay buried. So, it all depends upon the snail species.