The Deadly Cone Snail
The Deadly Cone Snail, Photo copyright from https://critter.science/

Are Snails Poisonous? Everything You Need to Know

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Are Snails Poisonous? Snails are fascinating creatures that come in many shapes, sizes and colors. They can be found in almost every habitat on Earth, from deserts to oceans, from mountains to forests. Snails are also a popular delicacy in many cuisines, especially in France, where they are known as escargots.

But are snails poisonous? Can they harm humans or other animals with their venom or toxins? The answer is not so simple, as different types of snails have different levels of danger. In this article, we will explore the various kinds of snails that exist, how they use their venom or toxins for defense or hunting, and what risks they pose to humans and other animals.

Are Snails Dangerous? Garden Snails
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How Do Snails Produce Venom Or Poison?

Snails produce venom or toxins in specialized glands or organs that are connected to their mouthparts or shells. Snails use their venom or toxins for different purposes, such as defense, predation or competition.

Some snails have venomous teeth called radulae, which are rows of tiny, sharp structures that can inject venom into their prey or enemies. The radulae are located inside the mouth of the snail, and they can be extended or retracted by muscles. The venom glands are located behind the radulae, and they secrete different types of venom depending on the species of snail.

Some snails have toxic shells that can release toxins into the water or air when threatened or disturbed. The shells are made of calcium carbonate and other minerals, and they can contain various chemicals that can cause irritation, inflammation or poisoning. The toxin glands are located inside the shell or under the mantle, which is a layer of tissue that covers the body of the snail.

Best Snail for Fish Tank
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Garden Snails : Are Snails Poisonous?

Garden snails are the most familiar snails to most people. They have brown or gray shells and feed on plants, fruits and vegetables. Garden snails are not poisonous, nor are they venomous. This means that they are not toxic to humans either through their consumption or their bites. That being said, the main danger with snails is that they can pass on parasites through contact.

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One of the most common parasites that snails carry is schistosomiasis, which infects nearly 250 million people, mostly in Asia, Africa and South America. Schistosomiasis is caused by a worm that lives in freshwater snails and enters the human body through the skin when people swim or wade in contaminated water. The worm then migrates to the blood vessels and lays eggs that can damage various organs and cause symptoms such as anemia, fatigue, abdominal pain, diarrhea, liver enlargement and even death in chronic cases.

Another parasite that snails can transmit is rat lungworm, which is caused by a nematode that infects rats and snails. Humans can get infected by eating raw or undercooked snails or by ingesting their slime. The nematode then travels to the brain and causes symptoms such as headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, neck stiffness and neurological problems.

To prevent these infections, it is advisable to avoid contact with snails or their slime, wash your hands after handling them, cook them thoroughly before eating them and avoid drinking water from sources where snails may live.

Pink Ramshorn snails
Pink Ramshorn snails, Photo copyright from twitter.com

Freshwater Snails : Are Snails Poisonous?

Freshwater snails are aquatic snails that live in lakes, rivers, ponds and streams. They belong to various families and genera, such as Planorbidae (ramshorn snails), Physidae (bladder snails), Lymnaeidae (pond snails) and Biomphalaria (pulmonate snails).

Freshwater snails are not directly poisonous to humans or other animals, but they can carry a parasitic disease called schistosomiasis, which infects nearly 250 million people, mostly in Asia, Africa and South America. Schistosomiasis is caused by flatworms called schistosomes, which use freshwater snails as intermediate hosts.

Schistosomes enter the snails through their skin or mouth, and then develop and multiply inside their body. The snails then release the schistosomes into the water, where they can penetrate the skin of humans or other animals that come into contact with the water. The schistosomes then migrate to the blood vessels, where they can live for years or decades.

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Schistosomiasis can cause various symptoms, such as anemia, fatigue, abdominal pain, diarrhea, liver damage, kidney failure, bladder cancer or death. Schistosomiasis can be treated with drugs such as praziquantel, but prevention is better than cure. Avoiding contact with contaminated water, wearing protective clothing and shoes, and boiling or filtering water before drinking are some of the ways to prevent schistosomiasis.

 

The Deadly Cone Snail
The Deadly Cone Snail, Photo copyright from https://critter.science/

Marine Snails : Are Snails Poisonous?

Marine snails are snails that live in saltwater environments such as oceans, seas and coral reefs. There are thousands of species of marine snails, but only a few are dangerous to humans. The most notorious ones are the cone snails, which are among the most venomous animals in the world.

Cone snails have cone-shaped shells that come in various colors and patterns. They have a harpoon-like tooth at the end of their proboscis that they use to inject venom into their prey. Their venom contains hundreds of different toxins that can affect the nervous system, muscles, blood and other organs of their victims.

Cone snail venom can cause symptoms such as intense pain, swelling, numbness, tingling, paralysis, respiratory failure and even death in humans. There is no antivenom for cone snail stings, so the only treatment is supportive care until the venom wears off.

Cone snails are usually found in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. They are often collected for their beautiful shells or kept as pets by aquarium enthusiasts. However, they should be handled with extreme caution or avoided altogether. Never touch a cone snail or pick up its shell unless you are sure it is empty. If you are stung by a cone snail, seek medical attention immediately.

 

Other Snails

There are many other types of snails that are not poisonous or venomous but may still pose some risks to humans or animals. For example:

Apple snails are large freshwater snails that can grow up to 15 cm in diameter. They are popular as pets and aquarium decorations but they can also be invasive pests that damage crops and native ecosystems. Apple snails can carry rat lungworm and other parasites that can infect humans or animals.

Giant African land snails are huge terrestrial snails that can grow up to 20 cm in length. They are native to Africa but have been introduced to many other regions of the world as pets or food sources. Giant African land snails can carry rat lungworm and other parasites that can infect humans or animals. They can also eat more than 500 types of plants and cause serious agricultural damage.

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Slugs are soft-bodied mollusks that lack shells. They are closely related to snails but have different adaptations for living on land. Slugs can also carry parasites such as rat lungworm and schistosomiasis that can infect humans or animals. They can also damage plants by eating their leaves, stems and fruits.

 

How to Avoid Snail Poisoning?

Snail poisoning is rare but serious. To avoid snail poisoning, follow these tips:

  • Do not touch or handle cone snails without gloves or proper equipment. If you see a cone snail on the beach or in the water, leave it alone.
  • Do not eat raw or undercooked snails or contaminated food or water. Cook snails thoroughly before eating them, and wash your hands and utensils after handling them. Wash fruits and vegetables before eating them, and boil or filter water before drinking it.
  • Do not swim or wade in freshwater that may be infested with schistosomes or rat lungworms. Wear protective clothing and shoes when entering the water, and dry yourself thoroughly after leaving it.
  • If you suspect that you have been bitten by a cone snail or infected by a snail-borne parasite, seek medical attention immediately. Tell your doctor about your exposure history and symptoms.

Summary

Snails are not all harmless creatures that you can touch or eat without worry. Some snails are poisonous to humans and other animals, either by injecting venom with their radulae or by carrying parasites with their shells. Snail poisoning can cause serious health problems or even death if left untreated.

Therefore, it is important to be aware of the different types of snails that exist, how they produce venom or toxins, and what risks they pose to humans and other animals. By following some simple precautions, you can avoid snail poisoning and enjoy these fascinating creatures safely.

 

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