Snails are remarkable creatures with unique sleep patterns. They will keep your tank clean and healthy, while posing little to no threat to your other fish.
Snails move very slowly and sometimes will even stay still for long periods of time. People tend to worry when they see their snail not moving for a while, when really, they’re probably just sleeping. Snails sleep on and off for about 2 to 3 days, sleeping in bouts for 13 hours or more at a time. Once awake, the snail will stay active for about 30 hours until it needs to repeat its sleep process again.
Snails carry their homes on their body, which is a wonderful defense mechanism. Because they are so slow moving they need quick protection in case danger arises. Their shell offers them protection and a safe place to sleep and rest.
Snails have an interesting and complex sleep pattern which is important to understand if you are going to add them to your fish tank.
Why Have Snails in Your Tank?
There are a number of reasons why you should add snails to your aquarium:
- Freshwater snails are scavengers and will eat algae, debris and leftover fish food. This helps to keep your tank clean.
- They can be an attractive and decorative additions to your tank.
- If you are breeding your fish, freshwater snails won’t eat the eggs, unlike most other algae eaters.
- They love burrowing in the tank substrate. This aerates it, preventing toxic and deadly gasses from building up.
- Some types of snails such as the assassin snail, will eat pest snails. This prevents the population from getting out of control which is very important to the health of your tank.
- Snails will also eat dead and dying plants which, if left, can release ammonia at deadly levels.
- They are very susceptible to water changes and they often retreat into their shells when the water conditions in the tank are worsening. They can help you remember when to change the tank water.
How Does Snail Sleep Differ to That of Other Animals?
Unlike humans and other mammals, snail sleep patterns don’t rely on the sun. Our biological functions such as sleep and appetite and controlled by the sunlight influencing our circadian rhythms.
Humans sleep for about 8 hours throughout the night, and many fish are the same way.
Snails however, will sleep on and off for about 2 to 3 days, sleeping in bouts for 13 hours or more at a time. Once awake, the snail will stay active for about 30 hours until it needs to repeat its sleep process again.
Unlike humans and other mammals, disturbing a snail’s sleep schedule will have little to no effect on its energy levels or health. They will stay active until their next marathon sleep.
How Do Snails Sleep?
It is difficult enough to see much movement when your snail is awake, but when they’re sleeping they are perfectly still for many hours at a time.
If they’re hibernating, they could be dormant for months or even years at a time. We will come back to that later.
Snails prefer to be active at night, so your snail may be asleep or dormant for most of the day.
Once your snail is comfortable in its tank, it will find a comfortable position to rest. Its sticky mucus allows the snail to fall asleep in gravity defying positions.
The snail will slowly relax its foot and withdraw its tentacles. The shell will also start to slightly hang away from the body. That is how you know it is sleeping.
Mistaking a Sleeping Snail for a Dead Snail
It may seem hard to believe, but it is extremely easy to mistake a sleeping snail for a dead snail.
A sleeping snail has all the characteristics that we would typically associate with a dead animal.
First of all, they are perfectly still for long periods of time – even months or years at a time if they are hibernating.
Also, sometimes your sleeping snail will float to the top of the tank looking completely lifeless. Although you may see this and think this is a certain sign of death, surprisingly, it’s not. Floating to the top may be accidental or purposeful.
Rarely is a floating snail actually dead. They may have produced bubbles to make their shell float, giving the impression to predators that they are dead. It also may be accidental if water gets inside the shell and makes it buoyant or if an air bubble gets trapped underneath the shell.
If your snail is floating, leave it be and the problem will usually work itself out.
However, if you think your snail might actually be dead, take it out and have a closer look. Leaving a dead snail in the tank can spread diseases.
It should have some sort of reflex when you touch or remove it from the water, if it doesn’t then it may have died.
If the shell is empty then it has certainly died.
If there is a rotten or foul smell coming from the shell, that’s another sign that the snail has died.
You can also locate the trap door in the snail’s shell – if it is shut then the snail is alive, if it is open, the snail may have died.
If your snail is young and thin shelled, you may be able to shine a flashlight and see if it has a heartbeat.
Snails, like many animals, hibernate to avoid starvation or extreme weather.
During hibernation, snails will withdraw into their shells and secrete huge amounts of mucous to layer their shell to maintain moisture for their survival. Without this moisture, the snail will die.
Snails will hibernate for up to 3 years at a time or until their conditions are survivable. Once food becomes available and the weather improves, they will come back out again.
If the conditions are right in the tank, your snail may not feel the need to hibernate for long or at all. Make sure the snails are getting enough food and the water is well filtered and at the right temperature. If you give your snails everything they need then they shouldn’t go into hibernation.
Snails make a wonderful addition to a tank as long as you are aware of their lifestyle. Don’t assume that your motionless snail is dead – be absolutely sure before you dispose of it. It can be difficult to tell if a snail is dead or alive so check all the vital signs before making a determination.
Provide your snail with proper care so that it doesn’t feel the need to go into hibernation. It is vital when keeping any fish that you monitor the temperature, pH and filtration of the tank, as well as the behavior and appearance of your fish.
Before adding a snail to your tank be sure to thoroughly research the species you choose.
Different species have different benefits and drawbacks that you should be aware of. They also have different tank requirements that are extremely important in keeping them healthy and happy.
Enjoy observing your snails and the benefits that they bring to your tank!
Frequently Asked Questions
Do snails sleep upside down?
Because they carry their homes on their backs, snails can really sleep anywhere. Their sticky mucous allows them to defy gravity and stay stuck to a surface for long periods of time. They may choose to sleep upside down, on a wall, or wherever else is comfortable for them.
Why Do People Add Snails to Their Aquariums?
Different snails have different benefits and drawbacks to being added to fish tanks. The main reason that people add snails is because they keep the tank clean by eating algae, old fish food and even fish feces.
What snails do you recommend for a freshwater tank?
Trumpet Snails, Assassin Snails, Ivory Snails, Nerite Snails, Gold Inca Snails, and Mystery Snails. These snails make great additions because they are all very good tank cleaners. However, they do all have their own drawbacks and it is important to research them before adding them to your fish tank.
How big do freshwater snails get?
Most grow to be about 1 to 4 inches in size.
Why are there small snails in my aquarium that I didn’t purchase?
Often, snails will enter a tank through live plants that you added to your aquarium. There’s no way to see them when you’re purchasing plants because their eggs are so microscopic. You might go to sleep with just one new snail and wake up with many more. This is because they reproduce very rapidly.
Can snails be harmful for an aquarium?
Some snails are beneficial to your tank and you might add them by choice. However, the snails that enter your tank unexpectedly can be a nuisance for a number of reasons:
- They reproduce rapidly and in large quantities.
- They can hide in your filters, causing blockages.
- Dead snails can release ammonia which is harmful for the tank environment.
- They have the potential to spread infectious diseases to your other fish.
- They eat aquarium plants.
- Chemicals used to kill the snails can harm your fish too.
You can prevent harmful infestations by quarantining all fish and plants that you are putting into your aquarium. Also, be sure to monitor their numbers because of how quickly they can multiply. Freshwater snails thrive where there is plenty of food, so avoid overfeeding the tank.
How do I get rid of a snail infestation?
If your tank has become overrun with snails there are a number of ways to get rid of them:
- Put lettuce in the tank and the snails will swarm to it. Then once they’re attached to the lettuce, remove it from the tank.
- Net them out individually.
- Bring in snail eating fish or snails. You could purchase Bettas, Gouramis or even Assassin Snails to get the job done.
- Put snail traps in the tank. They bait the snails into a container that they can’t get out of. Then you just remove the trap, empty it and put it back in.
- As a last effort, you can use a chemical to kill the snails. However, even if it says it is safe for your other fish, it may still cause them harm.
Are snails peaceful with other fish?
Generally speaking, snails are extremely peaceful with their tank mates. Snail infestations may cause harm to fish that are sick and dying because they can cause a biological imbalance in your tank. But, if you have a controlled snail population they will live in harmony with other fish. Be sure not to add any aggressive fish that may try to eat the snails such as Bettas, Loaches and Gouramis.
How do snails breed?
Most snails are hermaphrodites so they can lay their eggs and fertilize them too. Some snails are able to produce offspring completely by themselves while some others have genders and require a mate. Males will typically have a small lip on the bottom of their shells and females won’t. Females are also usually larger. Snails will lay eggs in clusters which then float to the surface of the tank. They will attach to the side of the tank or the underside of leaves and plants. After about 2 to 5 weeks, the eggs will hatch.
What are the tank requirements for a freshwater snail?
The tank requirements for freshwater snails depends largely on what species you get. It is important to heavily research the snail species you plan on adding to your aquarium. In general, freshwater snails need a minimum aquarium size of about 5 or more gallons. The water temperature requirements are roughly between 72 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit. They will typically feed off of algae and excessive food and debris from the tank.
Ensure you have a tight-fitting lid on your tank, snails can easily crawl out if not. Make sure the water quality is good as freshwater snails are very sensitive to changes in pH and temperature.