Snails are an underappreciated animal. So unlike humans, they can be hard to relate to, but despite some people being repulsed by them, snails are a fascinating organism with unique traits. For example, besides being useful in your garden, they can go for long periods without feeding.
Most snails can survive for weeks and up to a couple of months without eating. Scientific studies on snails have shown that specific species can live up to eight months without food.
There are thousands of species of snails on planet earth; with such diversity, no two species have identical life histories. However, one thing that can be said for most snails is that they can go without eating for quite some time.
How Long Can Snails Survive without Food?
Whether you are a snail enthusiast, a gardener, or are merely curious, you might have found yourself wondering how often a snail needs to eat. There are so many species of snails in the world that there isn’t just one answer. In general, though, snails can survive for several weeks without eating.
One study of the Giant African Snail (Achatina Fulica) observed a snail under forced conditions, survive for five months without eating, while a second snail went five and a half months with no food.
Another scientific study focused on the apple snail (Pomacea canaliculate), looking at the long-term effects of fasting. For 33 weeks, a collection of 40 snails were denied food and observed. At the end of the study, just over eight months, one snail had survived. Most of the snails had perished in under four months, though.
How Often Do You Need to Feed Snails?
A snail should always have access to food. Depending on if a snail is aquatic or terrestrial, the frequency in which it needs to eat varies.
A baseline for giving new food to a snail is every 1-3 days.
Do Snails Feed Themselves?
Each species of snail has unique dining habits. Since they are animals, they must consume organic matter, anything that is from a plant or animal, to nourish their bodies. Plants and algae are the only living things that can feed themselves, meaning they create their own food thanks to photosynthesis, but that’s a whole other story.
If the food a snail enjoys is available, the snail will eat it at its own pleasure. If you have a pet snail, placing a variety of foods in their home is all you need to do; there is no need to hand feed them.
What Do Snails Eat?
Some snails are opportunistic eaters, meaning they will eat whatever they find. Other snails are quite picky. Like humans, some snails are herbivores (vegetarian), and others are omnivores (eating plants and animals). Foods that are eaten by some, but not all snails, include:
- Plants: stems, leaves, flowers, bark, fruits, etc.
- Fungi and Mushrooms
- Other Snails and Slugs
- Carrion (already dead animals)
Gardeners and snails, especially garden snails (Helix pomatia), are always butting heads. A garden is a true paradise for these leaf loving gastropods. Garden snails have developed a love of strawberries, cabbage, and lettuce, with the most exquisite delicacy being the young new shoots of a plant, newly emerged from the soil.
Although snails enjoy most produce, there are a few things they don’t like, such as citruses like oranges and pineapples.
If you have a pet snail that lives with other animals such as fish, your snail will be able to forage for algae and sunken fish food. While they can get by on that alone, your snail will appreciate an occasional treat. A few ideas for an aquatic snail’s snack include:
- Algae Wafers
- Leaf or Iceberg Lettuce
For snails cohabitating with fish or other creatures, a small piece of the chosen treat can be given every other day. If your snail is living solo, then daily feeding is recommended.
After you feed your snail, check back in about four hours. Any uneaten food should be removed from the tank. If left behind, the food will break down and decrease the quality of the water.
Every snail will eat a different amount. Start with the guidelines above and see how your snail responds. If it devours supplemented food right away, feed it a larger portion or feed it small pieces more frequently. If you notice that your snail is sluggish to partake in what you provide, then you can feed it less often.
The amount and frequency that you feed your snail really depend on your snail’s appetite. The snail care guide from Aquatic Arts can provide information specific to your aquatic snail species.
If you have a terrarium with a snail in it, you have a few options for how you feed it. You can grow a mini garden right inside the terrarium. In small pots, you can plant some leafy greens so that your snail always has food available.
Even if you have food growing in your terrarium, it is essential to supplement it with a variety of products so that your snail gets all the nutrients it needs. Besides the foods recommended for aquatic snails, these make excellent treats for land snails:
- Cuttlefish or eggshells for calcium
- Dandelion Leaves
For land snails, you can chop up their food and place it in a shallow dish in their enclosure. You can leave the food in there until it wilts, browns, or molds.
Your snail will thrive if it always has food available. Observe how much your snail eats to fine-tune the amount and frequency at which you feed it.
How Do Snails Eat?
Imagining a snail with a big toothy grin is very comical, but that image is left to the skill of a cartoonist. Snails have teeth, but they differ significantly from the kind people and other mammals have.
Instead of biting and chewing their food with canines and incisors, snails lick their food with a radula. A radula is a flexible band covered in microscopic teeth.
As they lick their meal of choice, those tiny teeth scrape up particles. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County has incredible closeup photos of a snail’s radular teeth, and YouTube has amusing videos of their radulas in action.
How Long Can Snails Go Without Water?
Water is vital for all living things on earth, snails included. Some snails are entirely aquatic and spend their whole lives in fresh or saltwater. Just like with their eating habits, each species of snail is going to vary in their ability to survive without water.
A study in the journal Hydrobiologia compared the effects of desiccation on two aquatic snails, one native and one invasive, over seven days. Results indicated that the invasive species (Bithynia tentaculate) could live longer without water than the native species (Physa gyrina).
When a snail finds itself in unpleasant conditions, it retreats into its shell. It seals their operculum (the door of their shell) closed or secretes an epiphragm (a calcium-rich mucus shield) to retain moisture. In this state, a snail can last quite some time without drinking water.
Although snails can survive under dry conditions, if you want your snail to thrive, then it is essential to keep its environment moist. For land snails, daily misting of their home is best. Another option is to keep a small piece of sponge in a shallow dish of water. If you choose to do this, be sure to clean the dish and sponge daily.
How Do Snails Drink?
When a snail is thirsty, it can’t fill a glass of water from the sink or buy a bottle. Instead, a snail must rely on what is available in its surroundings. There are three main ways a snail can “drink” water:
- Drinking water with its mouth
- Obtaining water through food consumed
- Absorbing water through their body
The ability to fill their water needs in multiple ways allows snails to live in a variety of climates, including the desert. When water is available, they take it in and hold onto it through periods of drought.
However, marine water is salty, and that presents a challenge for the aquatic snails living in it; to overcome this problem, these snails take in the water when they open their mouth, while their body excretes the salt back out.
While snails can survive months with no food or water, surviving is not the same as thriving. Snails require food at least every one to three days and need water daily (particularly for land-based snails).
In conclusion, snails are marvelous creatures with impressive abilities. A life lesson can be learned from these slow-paced souls. Our lives are often busy with little or no time to enjoy just being alive. Take some time just to slow down. Observe what is around you; you might even hear a snail eating with its very tiny teeth.