What do snails and slugs eat


As a child, I played every day in the garden in front of my house in my home town of Rheinlandpflanz. There, my interest in nature grew, as did my aspirations to become a natural scientist. I now study horticultural phytotechnology and am currently writing my bachelor’s thesis on the topic of crop protection in orchards. Since living Berlin, I have become particularly interested in improving the quality of life in cities with the help of plants.

Favourite fruit: figs, passion fruit, berries, limes and oranges.
Favourite vegetables: potatoes, garlic, tomatoes, pickles, lamb’s lettuce and rocket.

Snails are voracious little creatures. But what do snails prefer to eat? And do Roman snails actually like the same things as slugs?

Snails on a person's hand
Snails are common in our gardens [Photo: Bela Zamsha/ Shutterstock.com]

If the garden is richly stocked, every snail finds its happiness. Mostly, however, it is just the slugs that feast on fresh vegetables. Roman snails, on the contrary, can be welcome beneficial insects. Find out here which snail eats what.

What do snails eat?

There are wide differences depending on the genus and species, but in a pinch, snails overlook their preferences. Most often, the snails found in our gardens prey on plants, but also eat carrion and sometimes even other snails. Only rarely is there a preference for specific plant species. In general, it can be said: snails crawl a wide berth around leaves with a high content of tannins, bitter substances and essential oils.

Gardens with clayey soil are more often affected by slugs than those with more dry, sandy soil. The reason for this is that snails necessarily need to protect themselves from drying out, and clay is better to store the water, which is important for this purpose. If the garden is generally rather sandy, it is less visited by slugs.

In winter, the gardener can breathe a sigh of relief. Because here the animals fall into a winter rigidity and take no more food.

Roman snail among old leaves
Roman snails (Helix pomatia) rarely feed on fresh greenery [Photo: Jonas Vegele/ Shutterstock.com]

What do Roman snails eat?

The Roman snail (Helix pomatia), which is a protected species, is one of the most welcome guests in our gardens. With its rasping tongue (radula) with around 40,000 teeth, it prefers to crush wilting leaves. In the process, it produces important humus. Young plants and juicy vegetables, on the other hand, usually go unnoticed. If the hunger is great, sometimes fresh greens are consumed. Of great benefit is the fact that young Roman snails in the breeding burrows eat the egg clutch of the dreaded slugs. Even tobacco plants are on the menu of snails.

Overview: What do Roman snails eat?

  • Withered leaves of most vegetables
  • Rare vital plant parts
  • Slug egg clutches
  • Tobacco plants
Spanish slug on green leaf
Spanish slugs (Arion vulgaris) love fresh greenery [Photo: Tomas Vynikal/ Shutterstock.com]

What do slugs eat?

On the one hand, there are phytophagous – that is, herbivorous – slugs, but also those that live cannibalistically. Phytophagous slugs, for some time especially the Spanish slug (Arion vulgaris), have a high damaging potential. They gleefully feast on young plants and crunchy leaves and seem to have an insatiable appetite. The grey garden slug (Deroceras reticulatum) particularly targets seedlings and is active even below 10 °C. A lesser potential for damage is provided by the large black slug (Arion ater), which generally prefers wilted plant material.

Deroceras reticulatum on a leaf
The grey garden slug (Deroceras reticulatum) has a short keel, a slight tapering of the back [Photo: Starover Sibiriak/ Shutterstock.com]

The list of at risk plants is long:

Phytophagous slugs eat these crops:

  • Strawberries, apples, persimmon
  • Lettuce, bell pepper plants, courgettes
  • Cabbage, swede, beetroot, radish
  • Broccoli, mustard, turnip greens
  • Leek, celery, asparagus, beans
  • Basil, dill, marjoram, parsley
  • And quite a few more

In addition, the following ornamental plants:

  • Compositae: marigolds, dahlias, sunflowers, asters
  • Larkspur, funkias, levkojen, petunia, corn poppy
  • To name just a few
A European black slug
European black slugs (Arion ater) are usually black, but young ones are white with dark antennae [Photo: Dawid Sliwka/ Shutterstock.com]

Fortunately, there are also snail resistant plants. They are avoided by the voracious mollusks or even act as a protective shield for plants that are vulnerable to feeding. If you want to know what vegetables snails do not like, you will find the answer in our special article.

There is reason to breathe a sigh of relief when spotting a slug with the leopard look. This is probably the tiger snail, which is a cannibal that eats other slugs.

Leopard slug on a leaf
The leopard slug (Limax maximus) is a cannibal and eats eggs and offspring of other snails [Photo: Fotoz by David G/ Shutterstock.com]

What do snails with a shell eat?

Snails with a shell are not considered plant pests. Basically, snails with a shell prefer to eat decomposed plant debris and withered leaves, decayed grass or mulm, a mixture of plant debris, bacteria and minerals. Likewise, mushroom threads and occasionally carrion are on their menu. They are therefore, just like snails, with pleasure to welcome in the garden.

Overview: What do shell snails eat?

  • Decomposed plant remains
  • Wilted leaves
  • Mossy grass
  • Mulch
  • Mushroom threads
  • Carrion
Grove snail on a leaf
Snails, such as the brown-lipped snail (Cepaea nemoralis), are beneficial in the garden [Photo: Thijs de Graaf/ Shutterstock.com]

What do baby snails eat?

After hatching, baby snails initially stay in their breeding burrow. There they eat the remains of their eggs. Of particular importance here is a sufficient intake of lime, which is needed for a stable snail shell. It is not uncommon for the young snails to feast on other egg remains and non-viable siblings. The snails emerge from this stronger and increase their chances of survival.

After a few days, it is time to welcome the sun. On the way to the ground surface, the earth cover is eaten up, under which the brood cavity is located. Once at the top, they go in search of species-specific food.

Overview: What do baby snails eat?

  • Egg shells
  • Deceased siblings
  • Earth cover of the brood burrow
  • Species specific food
Burrow full of slug eggs
Slugs eggs are found hidden under soil [Photo: Andrey Solovev/ Shutterstock.com]

What do snails drink?

Snails drink water. They are made up of almost 90 % of this material, whereas a human being is only made up of about 70 %. Obviously, snails need to take in a lot of fluid to maintain their water balance. They absorb a significant amount of water through food, and a smaller amount through the skin. In particular, to keep their blood fluid, they need to drink regularly. If a snail is dried out, it can no longer move. Then water intake via the mouth is particularly important, first and foremost to keep the water content of the blood high, as well as to subsequently rehydrate the skin. You can recognize a dehydrated snail by the fact that its body is completely stretched out, but much thinner. In addition, she is immobilised. You can help a dehydrated snail by moving it to a shady, moist place and giving it access to an area of water. A bowl with some water in it is a good option for this.

Snail on a water container
Snails need to be able to replenish their water supply [Photo: Sadet Uslu/ Shutterstock.com]
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