- A-Z Animals
Snails are a species of mollusks that belong to the family of gastropods. They are easily identifiable by their spiral shell, which they retract into when they are in danger or are resting. The only other species of gastropods are called slugs, with the main difference between them and the snail being the lack of a shell in slugs.
They are languid creatures, which has also led to the word “snail” becoming a figure of speech for being slow.
There are over 4000 species of snails out there, broadly classified as land snails, freshwater snails, and sea snails.
Size: Length: 1.9-27.5 in (4.8 to 70 cm)
The smallest species of snail is Angustopila psammion at 4.8 cm, while the largest is the giant whelk at 70 cm.
Weight: 0.055-5.51 lb (0.025 to 25 kg)
Shell: The shell is a vital part of the snail, holding most of its vital organs. It is made of calcium carbonate and shaped like a spiral.
Body and Coloration: The snail’s body is soft and shaped like a tube. Other physical features include a muscular foot, several pairs of tentacles protruding from their head, and two stalks that have eyes on their end.
The primary coloration of snails consists of brown, pink, and yellow. However, striped, red, and white patterns have been observed on the shell.
Snails have a cosmopolitan distribution, being found worldwide.
They may live in the soil (or dirt), sand, trees, under rocks or leaves, and in aquatic environments like lakes, oceans, and rivers.
Most snails live for 2-5 years but can live up to 15 years.
The type of dietary habits displayed varies significantly from species to species. Some are generalists, while others are specific feeders. Snails can be carnivorous, herbivorous, omnivorous, or detritivorous. Common food includes carrion, centipedes, feces, foliage, fungi, insects, lichens, worms, and even other snails.
Predators of the snail include beetles, birds, crabs, fish, rats, shrews, and snakes.
The reproductive system of the snail is quite complex. Most species are hermaphrodites, possessing both male and female genitalia. Snails use smell and taste to locate potential mates. Once they do, one of them stabs the other with an appendage often referred to as a “love dart”. This is done to prevent the penetrated partner from rejecting the sperm from the other snail, increasing the chance of the eggs getting fertilized.
Some species, like the periwinkles and the apple snails, have distinct genders, while others, like garden snails, reproduce asexually without a partner.
After mating, snails lay around 100 eggs, though over 400 have been observed in some cases. Only a small number of these eggs hatch after 2 weeks, approximately 20-50. The larva consumes the shell of their egg as their first source of nourishment.
Initially, baby snails are transparent with very soft shells. They grow quickly, with their shells hardening as they mature. The number of rings on the shell acts as an indicator of the age of the snail. Sexual maturity varies greatly from 6 weeks to almost 5 years.
As per the IUCN, several species of snails are at risk. Reasons for this include loss of habitat, global warming, and pollution.
Usually, snails sleep for 15-18 hours, but some have been reported to sleep for 3 days.
While they don’t have proper teeth, their radula is covered with tooth-like structures.
Most snails aren’t poisonous, but the cone snail injects prey with venom using a small harpoon-like stinger.
Yes, snails can bite, but their bites are not very penetrative.
Most species of snail struggle in dry conditions, but some, like Sphincterochila boissieri, are adapted to live in the desert.
If the weather is unsuitable, snails may hibernate during the colder season.
Many snails move at less than 3 in/min. If a snail did not stop to rest or eat, it could travel 16 ft/h.