A Snail's Life

Snails Life Cycle Just Starting Out

In the beginning of this snail's life cycle. This snail's shell measures 1/4 inch across. Very tiny, but will grow rapidly from it's incessant appetite.
In the beginning of this snail's life cycle. This snail's shell measures 1/4 inch across. Very tiny, but will grow rapidly from it's incessant appetite. | Source

In the beginning...

Snails have a soft, fragile shell already when they hatch from their tiny eggs. It breaks free, then ravenously eats the eggshell it had escaped just moments before. The calcium-rich eggshell activates the hardening of the snail’s soft, fragile shell, which is very important for survival. It’s likely that the parent snail laid the eggs with food nearby, also a good thing because they are ravenous and will eat large amounts right away.

One way to tell if a snail is full grown is to look at the edge of the opening of the shell. If there’s a small lip around the edge, the snail is full grown; no lip means it has growing to do. A snail’s shell will grow with it throughout it’s life, and the tiny spiral shell it was hatched with will be the center of it’s adult shell.

During the day land snails are hiding from predators and cars. Some will venture out during daylight, but the majority of them hide until dark, when they come out to ravage the garden’s fruits, vegetables and new leaves. Slugs are always hungry and they love the same greens and strawberries as people do, so they’re considered garden raiders and pests.

A Snail’s Reproduction

Snails must be at least two years old before they have matured enough to reproduce. Two years is a long time, especially since they have so many predators and weather can wreak havoc on their populations, too. Snails are hermaphroditic, meaning they have both male and female sex organs - this is not to say that snails can impregnate themselves, though, they need the sperm of another to have properly fertilized eggs.

Snails do not have hearing anatomy and their eyes aren’t really eyes. They’re actually light sensors and detect only light and dark, and not images, but their foot is very touch and vibration sensitive. When mating, they touch each other all over with their foot, and cover themselves completely in each other’s mucous slime. Some say it makes mating easier for them.

With the front part of their foot pressed together, a stiff appendage from each one enters the genital pore of the other one and delivers sperm to the unfertilized eggs. Each snail can have from 50-100 eggs and they both leave the union pregnant.

A pregnant snail will make a shallow nest in the surface of moist soil and drop the fertilized eggs there, covering them before it leaves the scene. It can take from two to four weeks to hatch, depending on factors like soil temperature, moisture level and predation. Baby snails will hatch perfectly, eat their shell (and one nearby by, too) and go looking for more food, and it all starts again.

Land Snail Anatomy

Snails have very distinct appendages coming from their head; most people think they are eyes. They’re partially right, but they don’t see images, only light and dark. It’s a set of light detectors, but the two small ones below a snail’s face are feelers that touch the surfaces they travel on, giving it an idea of what it’s surroundings are like.

Late fall brings crisp, cool temperatures before they drop to winter’s standards and snails will protect themselves from extreme temperatures by going into hibernation. They scrape a hole in the ground or a compost pile and slide into it, or they find a protected nook to hide in. Then they seal themselves inside their shell by producing a chalky, light colored substance that will cover the shell opening and seal the cold temperatures out. It will live on fat stores it got from eating all the fresh greens and fruit all season long, and when things warm up, it pushes that chalky disc aside and comes out hungry again.

Snails have a foot, a head, a shell and a visceral mass (guts) and it has several internal organs; some of which humans have in common. They are:

  • A liver
  • Reproductive organs of both sexes
  • A kidney
  • A crop
  • A stomach
  • Intestines
  • Anus
  • A heart
  • A lung

Different kinds of snails grow to be varying sizes of their species and the environment and food availability also help determine how robust they may get. The African Land Snail has been known to grow as long as 30cm.

Snail Facts: A Snail Can Estivate

Any snail needs water to live, they’re such moist and slimy animals. But, if rain doesn’t come soon enough or if there’s a drought, snails are prepared to deal with it. They do a process called ‘estivation,’ where they pull inside their shell and seal it shut, and sleep, a lot like hibernation except that it’s triggered by drought and not cold temperatures. Like the end of hibernation, it will push out that chalky disc and go find something to eat when wetter conditions return.

Considered a garden pest, it’s hard to think such a small creature can do much damage to anything. But they can devastate a garden in a short time if left unchecked. They seem so slow, but they can travel a meter in five minutes, and that translates into about a football field’s distance in an evening.

Snails are very strong, as well determined. Left unchecked in a tank without a tightly secured lid can find their snails gone in the morning. This goes for all snails, whether land or aquatic. Tests show that snails can carry up to 10 times their body weight up a horizontal surface, and they can carry 50 times their body weight on a horizontal surface. Tanks must be secured with rubber bands or seals that apply pressure to close.

American Garden Snails

Gastropods, aptly named a word that translates into ‘stomach-foot’ (because their mouth is on the bottom of the foot) includes slugs, pond snails, water snails, tank snails, and all other snails. They all move with a wave-like motion of their one large foot and it makes them glide across most any surface, even up the sides of a house. A typical lifespan for a snail is from 5-10 years, although records show at least one lived 15 years.

In the US, snail farming is not legal in most states. Only one species of land snail is legal in any state, and that’s the Helix Aspersa variety, and it’s only legal in six states. In those states people who want to have land snails need a permit from the USDA and the activity is closely guarded. They will want answers to a lot of questions concerning the reasons and activity the snails are wanted for, and they‘ll set limits, as well.

One limit is the number of snails one can have at any time. Snails are prolific and quickly turn into too many. The USDA says the most humane way to deal with excess snails is to put them in a plastic bag and freeze them until they’re all dead. Then, just throw them away.

Once someone has a permit, they are subject to surprise visits from federal agents that want to inspect your project. And, if someone has a snail that’s escaped, the government expects the person to make a serious effort to find it, and it must be reported to the USDA.

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What do you think about snails, are they cute or do they gross you out? 11 comments

me 3 years ago

i think there cute because i love animals(domestic ones ) and i think a snail can be one of them

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 4 years ago from sunny Florida

this was very interesting. I used to sit on the ground as a child and watch these little critters. I actually have not seen any for quite some time so they must be doing a good job of hiding from me.

I am so glad I came across this. Thank you for sharing.

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 4 years ago from sunny Florida

this was very interesting. I used to sit on the ground as a child and watch these little critters. I actually have not seen any for quite some time so they must be doing a good job of hiding from me.

I am so glad I came across this. Thank you for sharing.

mizjo profile image

mizjo 4 years ago from New York City, NY

I found this such an interesting article, though I wasn't inclined to read it initially. I always hated snails in my garden and never knew they had such an intriguing life story. Now I know I should never judge a book by its cover!

lindy 4 years ago

My strawberry patch has gone to god because of the snails in our garden. I myself would never eat a garlic snail.......yuk it's a slug after all

jen 4 years ago

hi my snails shell has faling off,i've put it back in but am worried will it survive?

Rusti Mccollum profile image

Rusti Mccollum 4 years ago from Lake Oswego, Oregon

This was a great article, If you like snails.lol just kiddin ya! I found it interesting that they can't see.voted up

Jordan 5 years ago

My friend has a giant african land snail that is just a year old and it impregnated itself. So don't think that buying one will result in no offspring. She has over 40 baby snails that she's trying to give away to her friends. Good luck to anyone buying any snails.

SandyMcCollum profile image

SandyMcCollum 6 years ago Author

Hi Alexander,

Yes, it would be for food. Escargot is popular, I even love it. But I guess you can't eat just any snail.

MaryLou, I agree, it's the shell that makes the difference between cute and ugly!

Mary Lou 6 years ago

I learned a lot about snails reading this. I think their cute. Certainly cuter than slugs even tho that's what they are. Their shell makes the difference.

Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 6 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

I didn't know snails have hearts or that in addition to being hermaphrodites, they actually breed both ways at the same time! I thought they switched sexes several times during their lives.

One burning question, why would anyone want to farm snails? Is it for food, (escargot)?

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