Snails can bite humans as they have lots of tiny teeth in their mouth that they use to chew on leaves and grass. Normal garden snails will not hurt if they bite but you may feel a slight rasp or scrape as their tiny teeth run across your skin. Aquatic snails however can be poisonous and can sting humans.
Normal garden snails are common and you will often find them chewing on your brassicas, walking across your lawn or chewing on your newly planted seedlings in spring and fall. Normal garden snails are safe to pick up, they won’t hurt if they bite but they can carry bacteria.
If you do touch a snail, always wash your hands straight after to remove any bacteria.
This article will explore if snails bite humans, what happens if they do bite you, if snail bites hurt and snail species you should never pick up.
How much do snail bites hurt?
Snails have tiny mouths and teeth which are designed to chew through leaves, grasses and even soft stems. They will often target new plants or fresh growth because they are soft, tender and easy to chew through.
Snails have around 14,000 teeth called radula. Radula are unique to mollusks including snails and slugs. These teeth are close together and are similar to a tongue, used to scrape or cut food. This is why a snail bite might feel like a scratch or rasping rather than a sharp bite.
If you pick up a garden snail and let them crawl on your skin, they might mistake you for a soft, tender plant attempt to chew on you. Their tiny mouths are not strong enough to break the skin but you might feel a soft scraping or scratch.
Ordinary garden snail bites should not hurt but always wash your hands if you have touched a snail. I always think it is a better idea to leave them alone and let them do their own thing. If they are crawling on your plants, pick them off wearing garden gloves so they don’t touch your skin.
Snails can carry bacteria so it I best not to touch them if you can avoid it.
Aquatic snails can be poisonous. Cone snails are common in Australia and are can send out a large tongue or barb which contains poison, which stings and kills their pray. If humans are bitten by these snails then it will sting, burn, can feel numb but the symptoms can be as severe as paralysis or worse.
They can last for days after being stung. There are around 500-600 species of cone snail with around 166 of these occurring in Australia. They can be all shapes and sizes and should never be touched if you see them.
North American cone snails live in waters from Florida all the way to California. They usually live in tidal pools or rivers and can sting if you touch them. While their sting is not fatal, it can be incredibly painful.
What to do if a land snail bites you
If a normal garden snail bites you then nothing will happen. Their mouths are usually not strong enough to break the skin at all. You should wash your hands straight after touching a snail to remove any bacteria.
How to stop pet snails from biting you
It is usually easy to avoid allowing outdoor garden snails from biting but if you have a pet snail there are few tips that can help to avoid it happening.
1. Feed your snails well
A well fed snail will be less likely to bite than a hungry one. Feed them with good quality greens and grass before picking them up and they will be less likely to try to snack on your hand.
2. Wash your hands before handling pet snails
Wash your hands before handling pet snails to avoid carrying the smell of organic matter on your hands. If your hands do not smell or taste like plant material then snails will not confuse them with something to eat.
3. Handle pet snails regularly
Getting your snails used to being handled is the best way to avoid being bitten. Snails that are used to being handled are less likely to mistake you for food.
Do Snails Bite Humans? | Summary
Snails can bite humans with their tiny rasping teeth. They have small mouths which are not strong so will usually not cause any pain when they bite. You may feel a scratch if the snail is large enough. Always avoid touching aquatic cone snails as they can be highly poisonous.
I always avoid directly touching snails in my backyard because they can carry bacteria. Wash your hands if you accidentally touch a snail and wear garden gloves when you are weeding or planting. Snails come out when more often during the day when the weather is mild, cooler, damp and overcast.
Snails will usually hide out during the day to avoid predators living in mulch or undergrowth. Head out early in the morning to see if you can catch them in the act of chewing on your plants.
I am an accredited practicing dietitian, experienced gardener and a dedicated cook. I love writing and sharing my experience so you can learn from my successes and mistakes.