Introduction: Grow Your Own Musical Instrument - an Environmentally-sustainable Conch-substitute.

Picture of Grow Your Own Musical Instrument - an Environmentally-sustainable Conch-substitute.

I have some friends living in a tank in my lab - Giant African Land Snails. Although ownership of GALs is illegal in the US, they make popular pets in the UK. Easy to care for, quite long-lived (an average of five years) and easy to breed they are also popular in schools.

Every so often, one dies. It's no big deal, they're only snails after all, and they lay hundreds of eggs a year if they're reasonably-well looked after. The only problem is what to do with the corpse.

I have found that the easiest way to deal with the body is to bury it for a few weeks and let minibeasts do their work. After that, it's only a matter of washing the shell out with plenty of hot water and a peg on your nose.

But what do you do with a slowly-growing pile of large shells?

Inspiration came in the form of CanDo's Conch Shell Horn Instructable.

Step 1: What You Will Need

Picture of What You Will Need

As well as your donor shell, you will need something to cut and polish the shell. I used a rotary tool with a cutting disc and grinding bit.

You will also need eye-protection and preferably a dust-mask.

Step 2: Making the Horn

Picture of Making the Horn

Goggles on, mask on - this is dusty, and there is a risk of flying splinters or shattered cutting discs (well, if you will buy cheap Dremel copies...).

Based on the size of your shell, and of your mouth, saw the pointed end of the shell off. You are aiming for a hole around 1.5cm across (about half an inch).

Take it easy, and start in one of the grooves in the spiral of the shell (it's thinner there), but be careful not to follow the spiral round - you need to cut across the shell to make a circular end. If you are not sure how big to make the hole, start small and enlarge it later (it's kind of hard to do it the other way round!).

Switch to the grinding bit and round off the edges so that you do not cut your lips.

You will also need to grind away part of the central spiral revealed by the cut. You need to grind it off smoothly, and lower down than the edge of the shell, or you will not be able to blow it properly.

Wash off the dust, and rinse out the shell, because ground snail-shell tastes exactly like the stuff the dentist grinds off your teeth when you go for a filling.

Step 3: Playing the Horn

Picture of Playing the Horn
If you've ever played a brass instrument, this will be easy.

Purse your lips as if you are about to give your maiden aunt a peck on the cheek. Squeeze it tight so you look like you sucked a very strong lemon. This is called your embouchure.

If you blow now, you should make a noise like a very high-pitched raspberry.

Press your embouchure against the polished hole of the shell, and blow hard. You should be able, after a few moments' practice, to make enough noise to stir racial memories in foxes half a county away.

I'm no musician, but I was able to get a blast out of mine at the first attempt - have a look at the video for an example.


neverdrinkoliveoil (author)2009-07-24

Is their any possible way to acquire one of these Great African Land Snail shells other than having a dead snail? ( I live in the U.S. by the way so I apparently can not lawfully have one of these creatures in my possession even if I wanted one.)

I get a lot of it living im my Backyard, here in brazil, we have a pest of African Snails, we can Exterminate them freely, if you want some shel contact me.

Ebay? Any large shell will do - conchs are the traditional shell.

motleyjust (author)2009-07-20

To help clean the shell after the mini beasts are done with it, try something I learned about that works with cow horns: Denture cleaning tablets. I would fill the horn with warm (not hot ) water and drop a tablet inside. Prop it upright and wait for it to quit foaming and rinse it out. Repeat until all the gunky suff is gone.

Labot2001 (author)2008-02-28

It sounds like a trumpet with a towel shoved in it =D

Lol, great Instructable. And, uh, no, I don't think it qualifies ;]

Kiteman (author)Labot20012008-02-28

Aww... I'm part way through making a proper conch shell version, but the darn thing is so hard I've worn out three grinding bits and four cutting discs on it so far...

theelectrifier (author)Kiteman2009-05-20

you need a diamond blade to cut shells

Labot2001 (author)Kiteman2008-02-28

Actually, it sounded a lot better than I'd originally expected it to. I'd originally thought that the natural twists and nicks and what all inside the shell would distort the sound something awful, but it really sounded pretty good. But the reason why I compared it to a trumpet is because it does sound like a brass instrument, but the tone is somewhat muffled. Good luck with the 2.0!

mynameisjonas (author)2009-01-07

the transition between the Flautist and you was almost seamless!

symeon (author)2008-11-11

I would like to respectfully suggest that an alternative to the "moto tool" method of mouthpiece formation for Conch shells exists. I have done the whole job twice using a heavy stone. The shell does not react like a glass structure when breaking, so with carefull hitting, one can remove the 1-2 cm round, end of the conch. This will leave a pretty rough surface to put your lips on, but that can be taken care of by rubbing on a rougher stone surface or sandpaper, if you want to go that far into smoothing it. I'm not against Dremel et al. , but sometimes one has to work without noise and dust.All this I learned from my friend Ben Hume of NYC.

Kiteman (author)symeon2008-11-11

I may have tried that, had I the courage! Plus, GAL shells are considerably more fragile than conches, and a heavy weight can crush then instead of snapping bits off.

UltraMagnus (author)2008-08-02

hah, i have gotta get me some of those snails (and no, not to just make horns out of) I am beginning to wonder how long it will be before the UK gets hot enough for them to live wild thanks to global warming...

juicyjay (author)2007-11-03

Lol, sounds like a baby seal being clubbed...

corey_caffeine (author)juicyjay2008-07-14

club sandwiches not seals

leevonk (author)2007-10-30

I like the tron background.

corey_caffeine (author)leevonk2008-07-14


Kiteman (author)leevonk2007-11-04

LOL - that's my cutting board - the squares are 1cm across, which shows the size of the shell.

ker-boom101 (author)Kiteman2007-11-13

i havve the same one or looks like the same one its made by de serres and i bought for a sale at like 8 bucks and i use it alot:p

Rmg12 (author)ker-boom1012008-05-10

Nearly all cutting boards have measurements on like that.

incorrigible packrat (author)2007-11-01

The music reminds me of when I was growing up, the youngest of ten chilluns. At christmas time, after the presents was a wrapped, we'd play similar tunes on the tubes what the wrapping paper did come on (when not using them for lightsaber duels). We used a lot of wrapping paper. What I'm a wondering (being by no means a competent biologist) is if the wrapping paper tubes are a similar species to the snails. They both are constructed in spiral fashion, they makes a similar noise when blown into, etc. The main differences are one is made up of cellulose and the other is calcium carbonate. The wrapping paper tube is somewhat more convenient, having already holes on either end. Has anyone ever seen a live wrapping paper tube snail?

yes... but only very briefly.

Are they the snails that live at post offices and courier depots, that leave the little trails of horrible-tasting stickum, on the flaps of envelopes and the backs of stamps, that one lightly moistens with the tongue, for applicative adhesion?

Actually I was referring to the machine at a cardboard factory that makes the previously mentioned wrapping paper tubes... it looks kinda like a giant snail... ok, not really at all. :p

That would be a nifty process to see. There's a show called "How It's Made", that profiles all sorts of manufacturing processes. Fairly interesting stuff. The show itself is a tiny bit on the lame side though. Not sure if they've ever done cardboard tubes...

kolrobie (author)2007-10-31

Like most snails, they are an agricultural pests and they can carry some diseases from parasites on them like meningitis and salmonella, but regular snails can do that too. I think they're banned just on the agriculture aspect. I guess giant snail=larger destruction.

Kiteman (author)kolrobie2007-10-31

They are from West and east Africa (two slightly different species). There, they have predators, including Man (in some countries, they are the top source of protein). In the US, they have no natural predators, and the southern states are warm enough all year round for them to survive. As far as I can tell, GALs only stop eating when the food runs out (mine even kep eating during sex!), and a pair can lay 200-1000 eggs per year. I have also watch four snails reduce a whole lettuce to nothing within a few minutes. Imagine thousands in a field of crops, or a sensitive natural habitat.

jksloth (author)Kiteman2008-01-09

I used to manage a reptile store in Calif. in the 80's and I ordered one for myself in a store shipment. I kept it for a couple of months and I loved it. I named it Rex and fed it cut squash (lots of it). Then I got a call from the Fed. agriculture dept. They were trying to locate the last of six snails that were illegally imported into Florida and I was on the wholesalers invoice. Reluctantly, I gave them my snail and they destroyed it.(Sucked, didn't even get to keep the shell!) Apparently, the snails can reproduce asexually and if set free, a single snail can lead to the destruction of entire crops. Judging by the amount of damage the little nonnative escargot snails are doing in my own garden, I don't blame the government for being afraid of these hungry monsters. (But I still think it was a super cool pet!!!)

Kiteman (author)jksloth2008-01-10

I have five at the moment, and if they're in the mood they can lay several hundred each, several times a year. They're not asexual, though, they're hermaphrodites (each snail has male and female organs) and it still takes two to reproduce. Mating seems to be a dominance game - each snail tries to shoot a calcium carbonate dart into the other's "neck" (where the sex organs are), and the one that gets shot gets pregnant. It's very messy and slimy, with a lot of wriggling and knotted necks. I accidentally allowed one batch of eggs to hatch (163 hatched!) - when they were a few hours old, smaller than peas, they reduced a whole lettuce to a memory in about 10 minutes.

Rmg12 (author)Kiteman2008-05-10

cool. I hate snails, I think they are horrible, but I like these GAL. They had one in our school for years and then it died :'( we used to look at it in biology and it seemed quite clever haha, I did weird things with its antennae. Cool instructable

alvincredible (author)Kiteman2008-01-25

dang i love how you have all this knowledge about in every comment you make. ahah

Kiteman (author)alvincredible2008-01-25

It's called I paid attention at school

Plus judicious use of Google.

IamTheCreator (author)2007-12-12


jessyratfink (author)2007-10-31

What a beautiful song that was!

zachninme (author)jessyratfink2007-10-31

I know! I love the internets -- I get to listen to these songs in silence...

Jack Daniels (author)2007-10-30

I too would like to know why they are illegal

A risk of GiantAfricanLandSnailitis?

tyeo098 (author)2007-10-30

The elusive kiteman, seen in the wild...

Lol... that sounds like a dying crab more than a horn, but its cool, itll keep the geese away =P

Weissensteinburg (author)tyeo0982007-10-30

*in my best crocodile hunter voice, referring to the video*

Crikey! Here we have the rarely seen on camera Kiteman. It appears that he is gawking (as it's called) his mating call! You can see it's eyes darting back and forth, looking for a kitewoman, in hopes that his call succeeded. Unfortunately, this specimen is an ugly brute...even by kite standards, and it's unlikely that he will attract any kitewomen.

... =p

tyeo098 (author)Weissensteinburg2007-10-30

Ouch.... That had to hurt...

!Andrew_Modder! (author)2007-10-30

doesnt that sound like a ....horn ?

joemonkey (author)2007-10-30

awsome instructable, but i was wondering why are those snails illegal in the US?

Patrik (author)joemonkey2007-10-30

Presumably because they are an invasive species when they escape (or more likely - when they are released) into the environment.

Let's see... hmm, here you go:

"They are a highly invasive species, and colonies can be formed from a single gravid individual. The species has established itself in Temperate Climates also, and in many places, release into the wild is illegal. The Giant East African Snail can now be found in agricultural areas, coastland, disturbed areas, natural forest, planted forests, riparian zones, scrub/shrublands, urban areas, and wetlands. [...] Suggested preventative measures must include strict quarantine measures to prevent introduction and further spread. Many methods have been tried to eradicate the Giant East African Snail. Generally, none of them have been effective except where implemented at the first sign of infestation."

Johnsons on fire (author)2007-10-30

Cool... I like it.

About This Instructable




Bio: The answer is "lasers", now, what was the question? If you need help, feel free to contact me. Project previews on Tumblr & Twitter: @KitemanX
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