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How Do Snails Mate: An Interesting Question with an Even More Interesting Answer

Updated on August 27, 2016

The reproduction process of snails can only be described as both beautiful and bizarre. Whether you're a snail enthusiast or just plain curious, one of the questions that are probably haunting your thoughts is how do snails mate and how do they give birth to their young? We all see them as these small, slow-moving creatures crawling on their bellies while dragging their shell homes with them. It's hard enough to locate where their reproductive organs are, and it's even harder to guess how on earth these gastropods procreate. Well, get ready because the answer is mind-boggling!

Different species of snails mate differently. Most species of snails, though, are hermaphrodite. This means they possess both female and male reproductive organs. Some snails are able to reproduce without association. That is, they are able to produce baby snails on their own. However, this happens quite rarely. That's because the reproductive cells in hermaphrodite snails tend to reach maturity earlier than the eggs. In this case, they end up looking for other snails to inseminate.

This means that it's common for hermaphrodite snails to reproduce through physical contact. They need another snail to mate with so they can lay eggs. The other snail must be of the same species. It is also a hermaphrodite so each couple gets to choose who's going to perform the function of the male and who gets to play the role of the female. That said, they can also fertilize each other at the same time. In other words, they can act as both male and female so they can inseminate each other and both of them can get pregnant later. Talk about a flexible pair!

There are snails which can be hermaphrodites all their lives but there are also those who can perform the function of males in one season and then turn into a female the next. Even so, there are also snails that possess only one reproductive organ all their lives. Non-hermaphrodite snails are mostly marine and freshwater species. They are categorized into males and females and both need each other in order to reproduce.

How Do Snails Mate: An Interesting Question with an Even More Interesting Answer
How Do Snails Mate: An Interesting Question with an Even More Interesting Answer | Source

How Long Does It Take?

If you're wondering how do snails mate and whether they do it slowly, you'll be interested to know that like most of the stuff that snails do, mating and reproduction takes a pretty lengthy amount of time. Typical mating time can take up to 12 hours. Yes, these gastropods do like to take their time! Once it's done, the reproductive cells gets to stay inside the snail's body (or both snails' bodies) for up to twelve months. In most species though, pregnant snails can lay eggs 14 days later. This rapid reproduction is necessary for the survival of their species since they have relatively short lifespans.

Snails can begin mating and reproducing as early as one month old. That's not so bad considering that the average lifespan of a snail runs from five to ten years only. That said, there are also some species who won't be able to reproduce until they reach five years of age and there are also those who are able to live for as long as 25 years.

Your typical garden snail prefers to mate in tropical and humid climates. They'll breed all throughout the entire year and can lay eggs up to five times. What's more, if they're unable to find someone to mate with, they have the ability to store any excess reproductive cells for up to twelve months until they do find another mating partner. If the climate is less than ideal, they can mate during the beginning of summer or in the later part of spring. The snails' activity peaks at sunset so this is usually when the mating happens.

What Happens Next?
After the snail has been impregnated, it may hatch eggs after a couple of weeks to a month. It all depends on how warm the climate is. The warmer the climate, the better. The typical garden snail requires soil that is at least a couple of inches deep so they can lay their eggs on them. They will dig small holes in moist soil. The soil needs to have a temperature of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity of approximately 80%. The composition of the earth should be at least 30% organic material. Terrestrial snails can carry up to a hundred eggs in their bodies and they can lay up to 80 eggs in their nests.

After giving birth, snails end up losing a great deal of weight. In fact, there are those who are unable to recover and eventually expire after the breeding season ends. After a few days to a few weeks, you'll see baby snails crawling out of the nest. You'll notice that they don't have shells and this means they still need more calcium. The very first source of calcium that these baby snails will find is the egg shells from which they have emerged. The second is their yet unhatched brothers and sisters. In other words, cannibalism among baby snails is common. It will take up to three months for young snails to resemble an adult snail. At this age, they'll still be extremely tiny but the snail-like features will finally be recognizable.

Can Cannibalism be Avoided?
If you want to breed snails, then you'll be glad to know that hatchling cannibalism can be avoided if they are bred in captivity. Just make sure that you maintain the aquarium temperature at 68 degrees Fahrenheit. This way, the eggs will hatch about a couple of days apart. By the time the next batch arrives, the older hatchlings will be long gone from the nest.

How Do Snails Mate: The Process of Getting I On

The answer to the fascinating question of how do snails mate really depends on the species. The reproductive organs of snails can be spotted at the bottom part of their bodies and near the front. This is in order to improve their chances of finding a mate and successfully doing the deed. reproductive cells donation in most snails is usually one-sided. This means that in one mating position, only one snail gets to load its reproductive cells into its partner. After the insemination is completed, the couple can switch positions so they can mate again for the second time and the other snail can also share its reproductive cells. Simply put, during one mating session, a snail can serve as a reproductive cells recipient in the first round and then serve as a reproductive cells donor during the second round.

You're probably thinking how do snails mate when they have those shells getting in their way? True enough, the type of shells that snails carry contribute greatly to the manner of their mating. Those with tall shells mate through mounting. That is, the male snail (or the hermaphrodite snail performing the function of the male) mounts the female snail (or the hermaphrodite snail performing the function of the female). On the other hand, species of snails which have flat-shaped shells just mate simultaneously while face to face.

Note that snails can neither see nor hear each other so they find potential partners though the use of chemical senses. Plainly put, they utilize their sense of smell and their sense of touch. Marine species of snails, for instance, release a bunch of pheromones while they lay their eggs. These pheromones are fittingly named seducing, enticin, and attracin because they end up luring other potential mates to them. It's like sending a signal that goes: “Hey, I'm laying eggs so you can be sure that I'm fertile.” Terrestrial snails, on the other hand, find their partners by following mucus trails left behind by the fertile partner.

Because snails are practically deaf and almost blind, they may end up trying to mate with dissimilar species. The mating attempt, of course, may prove to be futile. However, in cases of cousin species, mating may be successful and an aberration may occur, resulting to a new breed. Snails aren't necessarily choosy but they do have their standards. It has been observed that some species of snails prefer to mate with partners that have large bodies. Also, some snails will refuse to breed with other snails that have traveled from afar regardless of whether they're of the same species.

Snails have their rituals prior to copulating. This may be observed as a bit of playful biting. Alternatively, you may notice the gastropods rearing up to each other. It may look like they're kind of fighting and kissing at the same time. This kind of foreplay can go on for hours and hours. Usually, this happens because one of the snails is trying to get the other aroused. Don't be shocked if you happen to come across a snail with his reproductive organ hanging out of his genital orifice. The poor guy's just looking for anyone who's interested.

Tips for Breeders
Tips for Breeders | Source

Right on Target

Another question that begs to be answered is how do snails mate with the use of their weird reproductive organs? It's time to take a closer look. Some species of snails have what is called the love dart. It's actually a calcareous or a chitinous arrow-like thing that one snail stabs into the other to inspire copulation. The aggressive snail injects a chemical substance which hinders the other snail's body's ability to resist reproductive cells. The mucus and hormones found in the love darts work by shutting the dead-end passageways and thus, aiding the reproductive cells to reach deep and straight into the female snail's reproductive system. What's more, when the male snail shoots the female snail with his love dart, she will end up resisting all opportunities to mate with another snail for the next couple of weeks or so. Naturally, if the inseminated snail copulates with another snail shortly afterwards, the donor's seed will encounter lots of competition. Love dart stabbing ensures that the male snail's reproductive cells has higher chances of survival. On the other hand, snails that have not been stabbed with the love dart end up copulating with other partners within the next seven days.

After the dart shooting, the actual copulation may occur. As previously mentioned, reproductive cells sharing can be one-sided which means only one snail gets to shoot his cells at a single penetration. Or it can also be reciprocal, which means that both snails can enter each other and shoot their reproductive cells into each other simultaneously. While in coitus, you'll notice that the heads and the cervical areas of both snails are swollen. The male organs appear papillated as they enter each other's genital orifices which are located just next to their organs. Upon closer inspection, peristaltic waves pass lazily along each organ. Meanwhile, a green-colored jelly will surround each genital orifice. The mating ends when the snails slowly detach from each other's orifices.

Copulating through external reproductive cells transfer may also take place. In this case, the organs of both snails are intertwined. The male organ of the donor snail will be upturned and the juice will be released. The organ will appear several times larger than its normal size and almost translucent. The male reproductive cells will look like a shapeless soft mass. The reproductive cell will be placed into the surface of the other snail's also upturned organ. This way, when the receiving snail retracts its organ, it takes the other's reproductive cell into its body. Simultaneous reproductive cell donation may also occur. That is, both snails can spread juice all over each other's penises and thus, impregnate each other.

Curiouser and Curiouser
The question of how do snails mate can't be answered in one specific response. Apart from internal and external insemination, another way in which marine species of snails can reproduce is to simply release their reproductive cells into the water. The reproductive cells will swim until they are received by other snails' apertures. In violet snails, the males don't have organs so this is their preferred method of mating.

Another weird mating practice that some species of snails perform is apophallation. This is otherwise known as amputation of the male organ. This may sound kind of scary and knowing snails, you can be sure that this is done oh-so-slowly. In this case, the organ/s of one or both snails are chewed off by the other using the tongue-like feeding structure called a radula. Once bitten off, the organ isn't regenerated. It ends up being ingested by the other, possibly for nutrition. One advantage of apophallation to the amputator is that it will certainly stop the other snail from mating with another.

If you're speculating on the question of how do snails mate because you're thinking of breeding them, the table below might prove to be useful. This is a comparison of the most common types of snails and their reproductive behaviors.

Apple snails
however, in some species, Gender may change from male to female
eggs are lain just over the water line
when in captivity, eggs are lain on top of the tank
eggs resemble clusters of caviar
Roman snails (escargot)
hermaphrodite terrestrial
Cross-breeding with other species may occur
Pond snails
possesses separate genital orifices so copulation occurs only in one direction
eggs are lain on stones and water plants
may fertilize themselves but performs reproduction to mix genes
Horned Nerite snails
cannot breed in fresh water, only in brackish water
low risk of overpopulating farm
Malaysian Trumpet snail
do not lay eggs but gives birth to live young
reproduction is rapid especially if overfed and placed in high temperatures
Brown Ramshorn snails
rapid reproduction
lays eggs in firm mucus on grass, rocks, and leaves
Tracked Nerite snails
breeds only in brackish water
Moon snails
consists of separate genders (male and female)
shares reproductive cells through direct transfer via the male organ
eggs will be surrounded by capsule-like mucus mixture with sand
eggs can amount to thousands and hatch as tiny larvae
Zebra Nerite snails
needs brackish water to breed


After copulation, the reproductive cells doesn't always end up fertilizing the eggs. Sometimes, the reproductive cells ends up being digested. Another strange behavior that has been observed in snails is that occasionally, they would return to the site where they copulated just so they could lick off the mucus and ingest them. Sometimes, they even lick it off their own bodies.

Another popular breed among snail collectors are Sulawesi snails. These exotic snails are either male or female. They are front-gilled and the male fertilizes the female through passing reproductive cells directly. The reproductive cells is bound together by adhesive fluids created by the glandular appendages of the reproductive organs. The progeny grows in the eggs within the female snail's brood pouch. Each embryo has its own place where it feeds and develops.

Once matured, the egg containing the baby snail is passed into the external environment from under its mother's shell lip. A few seconds after delivery, the egg melts away and the hatchling emerges. Sulawesi snails do not reproduce rapidly. Often, they produce just one baby snail at a time.

If you think that the answer to how do snails mate is interesting, you'll find the process of gestation and childbirth even more fascinating. In most aquatic snails, fertilized eggs turn into larvae which are dispersed into the water. As the larvae mature, they develop sail-like appendages. After undergoing metamorphosis, they turn into young snails with underdeveloped reproductive organs and soft, transparent shells.

In terrestrial snails, however, this process doesn't occur. What happens instead is that the larval development occurs within the egg from which the young snails will hatch later on. This is referred to as delayed oviposition or postponed egg laying. As mentioned earlier, when land snails are about to lay eggs, they dig a nest with their feet. After laying the eggs, they'll provide them with a protective covering made of mucus, earth, and excrement.

Delayed egg laying may occur in mud snails (Viviparidae) as well as certain marine species of snails such as in Janthinidae. In such cases, the young ones hatch within their mother's body and are delivered live. This is referred to as an ovoviviparous birth. Snails that have been delivered through an ovoviviparous delivery may manifest shells that are somewhat dented due to the slight trauma.

The appearance of snail eggs vary from species to species. Some have hard shells while others have shells that are soft and soggy. They look like very tiny chicken eggs but without the yolk. Mother snails are capable of retaining the eggs within their bodies until they are able to find an environment which is suitable for the survival of their young. For this reason, hatching time may take up to one to two days. A snail can spend an entire night making a nest and then spend another whole night just laying the eggs.

Tips for Breeders

Now that the question of how do snails mate has been answered, you may want to know more about how to breed them. Different species have different requirements. Zebra Nerite snails have lovely shells and they feed mostly on algae. It means that they rarely destroy other aquatic plants. This makes them an ideal addition to your aquarium. As mentioned, they flourish in brackish environments. To breed them or any other Nerite snails, you may want to place them in a separate tank first. This is because the brackish nature of the water may not be suitable for some plants and fishes in your aquarium.

Furthermore, this prevents the hatchlings from being ingested by aquarium fishes. To make a suitable environment for copulation and hatching, you'll need to fill the bottom of the tank with crushed corals or other substrates that are rich in calcium. The purpose of this is to provide nutrition for baby snails so they can grow their own shells.

Brackish water is a bit salty. This means you'll need to add some aquarium salt to the water in the tank. Perform a hydrometer test to determine specific gravity. This is directly proportional to the water's salinity level. A conducive breeding environment for the snails require a water density that's between 1.005 and 1.010. Add the salt gradually until you reach these levels. You may also need to use a thermometer to check for water temperature. It should be somewhere around 79 degrees Fahrenheit.

Begin with a small cluster of snails like five adults or more depending on how big your aquarium is. To encourage breeding, feed the snails often with algae wafers, especially if the tank is new. Older tanks may already have algae growing in them.

How can you tell the gender of non-hermaphrodite snails?
It's generally hard to tell males from females just by looking at them. However, what you can do is to take the snail from its habitat by carefully holding the little guy with your thumb and your index finger. Position the snail belly up for about five to ten minutes. Look closely at the snail's foot part. The snail will attempt to right itself and the flat membrane will therefore extend. With the aid of a magnifying glass, look carefully into the right mantle cavity. Search for a big male organ sheath just beside the gills. If it's not there, the snail is likely to be female. Also, the male snail's shell opening is usually rounder so as to accommodate the organ's extension during mating.

Now that you know all that you need to know about the mating process of snails, try answering the following question.

Which of the following statements is not true?

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