Assassin snails are a highly sought-after species, greatly appreciated for their tank-cleaning abilities. They exhibit a unique trait of attacking and killing other snail species, thus serving as effective exterminators. This carnivorous behavior of assassin snails is a matter of significant discussion and controversy. Among these debates, one particular point of interest is whether assassin snails are poisonous.
Assassin snails are not poisonous but carry a mild, non-harmful venom for subduing prey. They are technically edible, but their small size makes this impractical. While many land and freshwater snails are safe to eat, some, like flamed tiger snails, are unsafe for human consumption.
The remainder of this article addresses whether assassin snails are poisonous. I begin by distinguishing between poison and venom, then examine critical assassin snail dietary habits.
Is Being Poisonous the Same as Being Venomous?
These two terms may seem interchangeable to many, but they can often cause confusion. To facilitate our forthcoming discussions, let’s distinguish between the two.
Venom is a toxic substance that an organism injects, usually via a bite or sting, into another organism’s bloodstream. This can do the following:
- Incapacitate or kill the target
- Serve defense purposes
- Assist in prey capture
- Aid digestion
Venom can be found in snakes, spiders, certain fish, some snails, and many other organisms. In contrast, poison refers to toxic substances that enter an organism’s system when the poisonous organism is ingested, a common trait among toads, frogs, and salamanders.
Therefore, venomous organisms release toxins through bites and stings, whereas poisonous organisms release toxins when consumed.
So, Are Assassin Snails Poisonous or Venomous?
Assassin snails are venomous, not poisonous. They use venom crucially in their feeding process to paralyze and subdue prey. Being non-poisonous, humans can safely eat these snails, provided they are handled carefully.
How Do Assassin Snails Feed?
These snails possess a small harpoon housed within their proboscis, which they use to inject venom, paralyzing their prey. The proboscis in many venomous snails extends out, like a tongue, with an elongated harpoon at the tip.
A venom bulb pumps the venom from the glands into the harpoon, which strikes with remarkable speed, delivering the venom into the prey’s body.
See the marvel I’m talking about in the YouTube video below:
Assassin snail venom comprises several types, making it highly effective against prey and some predators. A set of razor-sharp teeth, known as a radula, then assists in consuming the prey.
Interestingly, assassin snails can also exhibit pack-hunting behavior, joining forces to kill and eat larger prey. For those curious about how these petite snails can take down larger species, such as nerites and trumpet snails, it’s all down to their potent venom.
There are myths about assassin snails engulfing other snails alive, but these are likely exaggerated. It seems improbable that a snail of roughly an inch could swallow another three times its size.
The assassin snail’s efficacy in hunting relies heavily on its venom. However, the venom these snails carry is not potent enough to harm a human or any reasonably sized tank pet.
Like other snails, assassin snails generally avoid larger tank dwellers unless they are hungry. In such cases, they might go after fish or gang up against larger snails.
Can Assassin Snails Be Eaten?
Assassin snails can be eaten as they are not poisonous. Like many other freshwater and land snails, assassin snails do not harbor any known toxins harmful to humans. However, due to their small size, they’re not typically worth the effort of cooking, which is why you won’t find assassin snail dishes globally.
Escargot enthusiasts generally prefer larger land snails. If you have a sufficient quantity, you could certainly attempt to create an assassin snail dish. Nonetheless, you must exercise caution while handling and eating assassin snails or any other types.
Consuming such mollusks could potentially lead to life-threatening health conditions. Snails are known carriers of bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Consuming raw or improperly cooked snails significantly increases your risk of disease or parasitic infestation.
Direct contact with infected snails or water can also result in infection. The National Institute of Health advises that snail-borne parasitic diseases can affect many organs, most commonly the following:
- Intestinal tract
Common snail-borne diseases include Schistosomiasis, prevalent in the tropics, and Fascioliasis, a deadly liver disease caused by liver fluke.
What Snails Are Poisonous?
While terrestrial and freshwater snails are commonly consumed, some discomfort surrounds sea snail delicacies. This hesitation is largely attributed to the cone snail, one of the deadliest sea snails.
The cone snail is assumed to be both venomous and poisonous, with venom potent enough to kill an adult. Predators that consume it rarely survive.
With over 600 species of cone snails globally, it is advisable to exercise caution. With these lethal creatures potentially slipping into a menu, you must be certain about the snail species you consume. A meal of snails isn’t worth risking your life.
One terrestrial snail known to be poisonous is the flamed tiger snail (Anguispira alternata). Not only does it have a highly unpalatable taste, but it also carries toxins that can cause serious gastrointestinal issues.
In large quantities, this snail can cause fatal poisoning. Therefore, it’s essential to know exactly what type of snail is on your menu.
Assassin snails are popular tank pets recognized for their tank-cleaning prowess. These small creatures efficiently kill and consume other snail species, making them a popular choice for aquarists dealing with snail infestations.
However, their venom and potential as food sources continue to be subjects of debate. Assassin snails carry a small amount of venom that doesn’t harm humans. Since they’re not poisonous, they can technically be consumed by humans.
Regardless, they should be handled and prepared with utmost care.
- NIH: Snail-Borne Parasitic Diseases: An Update on Global Epidemiological Distribution, Transmission Interruption and Control Methods
- KQED: Watch These Cunning Snails Stab and Swallow Fish Whole
- National Park Services: Venomous Versus Poisonous. Same Thing, Right? Wrong!
- ScienceDirect: Raw Materials From Snails for Food Preparation