Snails are fascinating creatures, whether they are gliding through your garden or gracing the walls of your aquarium. As a snail enthusiast or potential owner, you might be curious about snail behavior, particularly when it comes to their shells. In this reimagined article, we’ll explore Do snails leave their shells?
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Do Snails Leave Their Shells?
A common misconception is that snails can leave their shells like hermit crabs. However, a snail’s shell is a permanent and essential part of its body. As the snail grows, so does its shell. The shell provides protection, support, and a means to retain moisture – a snail’s best friend. So, no, snails don’t leave their shells, but they do have fascinating life cycles and behaviors.
What Are Snails?
Snails are gastropods, soft-bodied animals without any kind of skeleton. They are one of the oldest and most diverse species on the planet, dating back 500 million years to the Cambrian period. They can be found all over the world on land and in water.
The main thing that sets snails apart from other snails is the way they breathe. Most snails are equipped with a lung to breathe dry air, but of course, most aquatic snails will have gills instead. However, some snails have a lung and gills so they can breathe on land and in water. To learn more about this interesting biological process, read our full guide on how snails breath here.
The protective shell they carry on their back sets snails apart from other gastropods, keeping them safe from everyday dangers. So, is it possible for snails to leave their shells? If they could, would they even want to?
Most snails have a “door” covering the aperture of their shell called an operculum. They can open and close this door at will depending on whether they wish to go inside their shell or come out of it. The operculum can prevent predators from entering the shell and eating the snail. It can also prevent a snail from drowning or drying out, depending on whether the snail lives on land or in water.
Where Do Snails Get Their Shells?
Snail shells come in so many varieties of shapes and colors; you may be wondering, where do snail shells come from? How do snails find their shells? Quick fact — they don’t! The shells “find” them. Well then, do snails make their own shells?
Unlike hermit crabs, who must steal their shells from other organisms (like snails), snails are born with their shells. Their shell begins growing while the snail is in the gestation period, still in their egg. They are born with a soft shell that is not completely formed, and the shell keeps growing as the snail does.
Snails never need to worry about outgrowing their shells because they grow right along with the snail.
To learn more about the fascinating process of shell creation, check out our full guide here.
Do Snails Need New Shells?
Is there ever a reason why a snail would need a new shell? Do snails lose their shells?
Snails never need new shells, and in fact, it’s not possible for them to get a new shell. If a snail’s shell is damaged so badly that they would be in need of a new one, they are going to die. While it is possible for snails to repair a damaged shell, if it is too far gone, they will eventually die.
Do Snails Leave Their Shells?
So, can snails come out of their shells? The answer to that is also no.
Just as a snail can never get a new shell, it also can’t leave its shell. The reason that hermit crabs can leave their shells is that the shells don’t actually belong to them. Hermit crabs steal shells from other organisms, like snails, to survive. As the hermit crab grows, they have to keep changing shells to find one that is big enough for them.
Snails don’t have to worry about this shell switching because they are born with their shells and they are a part of them. In fact, snails’ shells are attached to their bodies, so it is damaging and fatal for a snail to be taken from its shell.
Why Do Snails Leave Their Shells?
It is not possible for snails to leave their shells willingly. Of course, they can and will come out of their shells to explore, but they only do so partly. While they explore, the shell remains firmly planted on the snail’s back.
A snail would only leave its shell completely if it’s forced to. Usually, this happens because of a predator, whether it be a hermit crab evicting them to steal their shell or an animal wishing to eat them. In these situations, the snail is likely going to be eaten by whatever it is that ripped them from its shell. They won’t survive without their shell even if they aren’t eaten.
Can Snails Live Without Shells?
Unfortunately, snails cannot survive without a shell. The shell is attached to the snail’s body, so the shell being ripped from them is quite painful and damaging.
Their bodies will be injured, and they cannot grow their shell back. This leaves them exposed to any threats. Even if a snail survives the initial deshelling, it will not survive for long.
Do Snails Leave Their Shells When They Die?
Technically, snails do leave their shells when they die, although this is not by choice. When a snail is about to die, it will not willingly crawl out of its shell. Instead, the snail will hide inside the shell and close off its operculum until it passes.
However, if the snail is degrading inside your aquarium before you realize it’s dead, the body will eventually leave the shell. The snail’s muscles break down and can no longer hold the body in the shell. A very easy way to tell if your snail is dead is simply by picking them up.
If they stay tucked inside their shell with their operculum closed, then they are alive. If you pick them up and their body falls out of the shell, hanging limply, then the snail is dead.
If a dead snail is never removed from the aquarium, the body will eventually degrade enough that the operculum will release from the shell and fall off completely. This will allow the degrading body to come out of the shell and further into the water column.
The shell is the most important part of a snail’s body. A shell offers the snail protection from predators and the outside environment. Not only does the shell offer protection, but the shell is part of the snail. Without it, the snail cannot survive. So next time you gaze at your aquarium snails, take a moment to appreciate the mysterious and fascinating lives they lead.