With more than 60,000 snail species currently in existence, snails can be found living in a wide range of environments. While many snail species have adopted organs that are necessary to live on land, other snail species could potentially dry out and die after just a few minutes without water.
All snail species need to consume water to survive. In terms of habitat, aquatic snails can live above water for a brief time. The amount of time they can spend above water varies, and primarily depends on whether the snail is gill-breathing or lung-breathing.
Given such a vast range of snail species, the amount of time snails can live without water understandably ranges quite a bit. Below I have listed some of the most commonly known snail species. Keep reading to get a better understanding of the nuances and mechanisms they use for survival — both on land and in water!
Terrestrial Snails: Species That Live on Land
The Garden Snail is a commonly known terrestrial snail species. While Garden Snails do not require any aquatic habitat for survival, they still face the threat of drying out in particularly hot or dry climates. In order to protect themselves, Garden Snails will retract into their shells and enter hibernation.
Their shells are internally lined with a thick layer of mucus called an epiphragm, which helps seal the entryway of their shell. This epiphragm traps moisture and protects Garden Snails from predators.
Preferred Habitat for Garden Snails:
Predators of Garden Snails:
Giant African Snails
Giant African snails are native to East Africa and prefer hot and humid climates. They have been found in Florida and Hawaii, but are considered an invasive species in America. They do not require aquatic habitat for survival but must keep their bodies moist.
Giant African Snails are terrestrial snails, relying on tree bark and ornamental plants for consumption. Their plant-filled diet supplies them with much of the water they need in order to remain hydrated and moist.
Extreme temperatures pose a threat to Giant African Snails, as they could potentially dry out. In order to maintain a functional water content, they have developed a method of semi-hibernation, or aestivation, that involves the formation of an epiphragm in order to trap moisture.
The Roman Snail is a widely distributed terrestrial snail, residing in many parts of Europe. It is fairly well-known, as it is the species used for Escargot. They are land snails, and therefore do not require an aquatic habitat to survive.
In extreme temperatures, Roman Snails face the threat of losing moisture and drying out. In order to combat this, they often dig holes in the ground or hide underneath leaves and shrubbery. They also have an epiphragm, allowing them to trap moisture and heat inside their shell. Not only do these methods help Roman Snails maintain functional body temperature, they also allow them to ward off predators.
Roman Snails Preferred Habitat for Roman Snails:
Aquatic Snails: Species That Live In Water
Although Ramshorn Snails are an aquatic species, they are actually air-breathing. They have a lung-like organ that enables them to survive without water for a few hours or even a few days.
The exact amount of time that a Ramshorn Snail can survive without water is somewhat variable, depending on the size and age of the snail. Larger snails tend to last longer than smaller snails. Ramshorn snails that are too young or too old also may lack the necessary metabolism to adjust between environments.
Because they are so easy to care for, Ramshorn Snails are often kept in aquariums or as pets. So if there comes a time where their tank needs to be cleaned, for example, it is usually safe to take Ramshorn Snails out of water for this brief period of time.
Ramshorn Snails thrive in freshwater habitats, and certain chemicals can erode their shells. Therefore, pet owners should be cautious of the acidity and toxicity of the water in their tanks.
Mystery Snails, like Ramshorn Snails, also have a lung-like organ that enables them to live without water for a short period of time. In fact, Mystery Snails will not reproduce while in water; they will usually climb to the surface of a tank to lay eggs. It is not recommended to keep them out of water for more than two days.
Nerite Snails can survive many days out of the water, as they have both gills and lungs. Throughout their lives, they spend roughly equal amounts of time in and out of water. They will even sometimes climb to the top of their tanks to get a break from being underwater.
Nerite Snails also have something called an operculum, which operates similarly to a “trap door.” The operculum will block the openings in the snails’ gills so that the snails can more efficiently transition to using their lungs.
Despite the advantageous operculum, however, it is not recommended to leave them for more than one or two hours without water at a time, as they are unable to trap moisture for that long, and will ultimately dry out.
Great Pond Snails
Great Pond Snails are an aquatic species and can be found in calm, freshwater habitats. Great Pond Snails lack an operculum, which makes it difficult for them to survive very long out of the water without drying out; it is unlikely that they would last more than a couple hours.
However, Great Pond Snails actually have a lung and breathe fresh air. They have a snorkel-like extension that branches off of their main respiratory tube, eliminating the threat of drying out when they go up to breathe. This extension allows them to remain comfortable and moist while breathing.
What Do All Snail Species Have in Common?
Despite a large variability in preferred habitat, all snail species need three essential things:
- Oxygen-Whether it comes from the air or from the water, different snails have different methods of obtaining the necessary oxygen for their bodies to function.
- Water-Land snails, for example, consume water by eating leaves and drinking from puddles. It is only the habitat of snails that differs between “aquatic” and “terrestrial.”
- Food-The preferred type of food varies between species.
You Can Care for Snails as Pets
If you are currently keeping a snail as a pet, or perhaps planning to, hopefully, this article gives you a little more insight into whether or not your snail should be kept in or out of water. To make sure you are offering your snail the care that it needs, make sure you’re up to date on the following information:
- Feeding-Snails need nutrients, such as calcium, in order to maintain a sturdy shell. Most snails can obtain their necessary nutrients from a plant-based diet.
- Habitat-There is more to a snail’s habitat than just “aquatic” or “terrestrial.” Different snails require different pH levels and temperature ranges in order to thrive.
- Reproduction-Many snails are hermaphrodites, which means they possess the necessary sex organs to reproduce on their own. It is important to be mindful of this, as your snail may potentially lay eggs in their tank.
Snails are very easy to care for, and make great pets—but it is important that they receive proper care and attention. Whether this is your first introduction to snails or your lifelong favorite species, I hope this article has given you the insight, education, and/or reassurance you need!