After some serious thought, I’m going to make a drastic change regarding my snails. It all boils down to this: the recommendations for proper snail care from pet snail owners and from heliculturists contradicts itself in serious ways.
Normally, this would make sense: if you’re raising cows, for example, what you do will be very different if they are pets versus cattle for meat. However, when it comes to snails, their needs are (mostly) the same. You want them to thrive, be healthy, parasite free, and fat (since stuff like laying eggs makes them lose lots of weight, and healthy, happy snails will lay eggs.)
But some of the contradictions have serious implications. Take, for example, everyone in pet snail forums suggesting coconut coir as bedding, a piece of advice I’ve followed religiously. This makes no sense if you look at the soil needs of snails according to the vast majority of heliculturists.
Coconut coir is inert, it has no nutrients, it’s not real soil. Real soil is made up of mineral particles, organic materials, air, water and and yes, living organisms, all things snails need (and this varies depending on where a snail is from, and what species it is.) Of course, the living organisms part is also the risk, but without real soil, snails die.
Moreover, snails need to eat soil, this is a hugely important part of their life. Both scientists who study snails and people who make a living out of heliculture place great importance on cleanliness. The soil must be clean. You cannot have poopy soil, the snails eat this, and at the end of the day while they may seek to do this naturally at times, soil high in feces is scientifically confirmed to contribute to higher snail mortality! Why no one points this out, I cannot understand.
So clearly coconut coir, while unlikely to have pests, is not a good snail substrate. But a soil that is just right for them is not easy to find. You can look for organic potting soil but still you must look carefully at the ingredients and composition, you may need to amend it with something else, and pests are a likely problem.
My snails are dying. Slowly, but they all are, it’s that simple, and they shouldn’t be. I feed all the right things. I use the so-called “proper” substrate and try to only replace part of the soil when I clean to avoid making it “too sterile”. I watch humidity levels like a hawk. It’s not working. And if I can’t figure out a way for my snails to thrive I will not get more snails after they die. It’s terribly unfair to them.
After a ton of soil research I decided on a particular organic potting soil that is very rich in natural nutrients. To this I plan to add some amount of lab-grade natural chalk. Perhaps, I’ll mix it with a bit of coconut coir too. I’m terrified about bringing in mites again, but I’m not sure I have an alternative when my snails are so obviously unhappy. If they still die, at least I need to feel like I tried.
Worst case, if I get mites now I know that the solution is to absolutely inundate the tanks with hypoaspis, and it’ll be fine… hopefully… anyway, they’re dying, so I have to try a drastic change. I’ll do it with just one of my tanks and see what happens.