How To Tell If a Snail Is Dead

dead snail

Source: Archyde

Have you ever bought a snail at the pet store or reared several at once just to question whether or not your pet has died? Snails are easy to care for, but they can be a mystery—especially when they decided to spend several days in one spot. Naturally, you will have a lot of questions about your snail, such as, “Is my snail dead or just sleeping?” or “Is it floating or dead?”

That is why we have come up with this guide so you know exactly how to tell if a snail is dead or alive in just a few easy steps.

How Long Do Aquarium Snails Live?

The lifespan of your snails mainly depends on the conditions of the tank. The higher the temperature of the water, the higher your snail’s metabolism will be. This is not necessarily a good thing for a snail, because it means that they will die much more rapidly. Some may even die within a year or 18 months after being introduced into your tank.

If you plan on keeping your snails for a long while, then you will need to maintain a water temperature of between 65-82 degrees Fahrenheit. However, snails will tend to live much longer if you have them in cooler waters, around 65-72 degrees, since that will slow down their metabolism. In such conditions, a snail will live anywhere between 3-10 years (this now depending on size and species).

However, do not allow the water temperature to fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise, your snail will die within just a few short days.

Other Factors In Longevity

Here some other ways to keep your snail from unexpectedly dying:

  • Never try to rear snails alongside fish when you are just starting out. Many fish species will eat snails.
  • Do not overcrowd the tank.
  • 1-2 snails require at least 1.8 gallons of water. 6-9 snails need about 5 gallons. 20-50 snails can live in 22 gallons of water.
  • Make sure the water is dechlorinated.
  • Keep the pH levels around 7-7.5.
  • Use smooth pebble or gravel substrate instead of sand. Avoid any red colored natural stones, since they contain too much copper and that can harm your snails.
  • Do not overfeed your snails.

How To Tell a Mystery Snail Is Dead

how idi know if my snail is dead

Source: AquaticArts

Mystery snails—sometimes called apple snails—are a common aquatic pet that is placed in freshwater aquariums. Generally, mystery snails are hardy creatures that will do well in even the poorest quality environment. But, just like any kind of pet, mystery snails are also prone to sudden death from illness and old age. However, unlike some other types of snails, deciding whether a mystery snail is dead or not can be a challenge.

No wonder they’re called a “mystery.”

The reason is because these snails have a tendency to go inactive and float on the surface of the water. Seeing this, you might immediately think that your apple snail has perished.


If you see that your snail is floating, pick it up from the water and smell the foot, or that tiny, flat section below the body that is like a doorway to the shell. If you smell anything foul or rotting, it means the snail is dead. Most snails are odorless. However, if the water quality is poor, the snail could smell of ammonia instead and not be dead.

Touch the foot. If the foot retracts, it means that the snail is alive.

If you still can’t figure it out, place your mystery snail on a plastic sheet outside the tank. If it is alive, it will emerge from the shell within a few minutes to search for water. Don’t worry—this won’t harm your snail. Snails have lungs, so they can spend a short while outside of water. Just be sure to return your snail to the tank once you have confirmed its alive.

If you confirm that your snail is dead, you will have to remove it from the water immediately. Mystery snails decompose rapidly, polluting water. This will make the conditions detrimental to the rest of the fish in the aquarium.

Are Aquatic Snails Dead If They Are Floating?

Aquatic snails can be adventurous creatures that climb all over the decorations, plants, and walls of your aquarium. In fact, you might call these slow-moving invertebrates risk-takes in sense. However, you probably wouldn’t expect to see a snail floating and bobbing around the surface of the water.

Floating is probably the last thing you want to see any aquarium pet doing.

You might immediately think that a floating snail equals a dead snail, but that isn’t always correct. In fact, while it can mean your snail has died, it usually means that they are not pleased with the current conditions of the tank. Snails will sometimes float because of air trapped in their lungs or also want to eat any film floating on top of the water.

Here are some tips to help you figure out if your snail is just hanging out or if it really as gone belly up:

Bad Water Quality

If you have failed to clean your tank’s water regularly, your snails might decide to go on strike. By that, we mean they will start floating in a dramatic act of death and defiance. When you suspect poor water quality, immediately check for nitrates, nitrites, ammonia, and debris among the substrate. Check the filter, too. If the ammonia is too high, your snails will attempt to escape.

Ammonia should never be about 0 ppm, and nitrates should be less than 40 ppm. If the numbers are greater than those limits, remove 20 percent of the water every day and replace it with fresh water until the numbers go down. Then, your snails should stop throwing a tantrum.

Tasting Film

Do you see a milky film on the surface of the water? This usually happens when there is harmless bacteria in the water or limited surface agitation. Plant proteins and particles that usually wouldn’t settle start to collect, and that forms the film. While this isn’t harmful to your fish, it does become a delectable treat for some snails. Malaysian trumpet snails and pond snails, for instance, find film irresistible. So irresistible, in fact, that they will let go of the walls or substrate and float upside down on the surface of the water to eat it.

Air Trapped In Lungs

Some species of snails are notorious for getting air in their lungs and floating. Apple snails are one of them. The air trapped in their lungs will sometimes prevent the snail from venturing back to the bottom of the tank, and they end up floating to the surface. Once the snail decides to exhale—which could take a day or so—they will then sink back to the bottom of the aquarium or latch on to something.

How to Tell if a Snail is Dead or Sleeping

You may have noticed that snails will hibernate for lengths of time. Sometimes, the snail will stay stuck to the same place for days. You might see that they stopped suctioning the walls of the aquarium. This could be disconcerting, especially if the snail doesn’t move for more than two days.

Two days is the maximum length of time to be patient and see if the snail will move. When that doesn’t happen, you can nudge the snail a little to see if it reacts.

If the foot is attached to anything—filter, plant, wall—then the snail is alive and well. If the snail looks like it is curled up in its shell but remains attached, then it is most likely alive. However, if its body is drifting out of the shell lifelessly, then there is a high chance the snail is dead.

But you never be entirely sure until you have physically examined the snail. Pull the snail gently from wherever it is attached. You may notice the body withdraw into the shell. Good news: the snail is alive. If it is not attached, remove it from the tank to continue with the examination.

What Are Other Ways To Tell If a Snail Has Died?

What if you cannot tell just by smell and sight alone that your snail is dead? In most cases, the scent method will tell you what you need to know.

Optional ways how to tell if a snail is dead include:

  • Check the water temperature. Remove the snail from hot water and see if it becomes active.
  • Give the snail a gentle shake. If it falls out, it’s dead.
  • Hold the shell close to a source of light. You will see through the shell if you hold it close enough to a bulb, as well as the body of the snail. If the snail looks shriveled, it has died.
  • Try transferring the snail to another source of water. If it doesn’t respond to the change in its environment, it is probably dead.

What Happens When a Snail Dies?

When a snail dies, you will often notice very visible signs. It won’t move and/or the body will be hanging out of the shell. You will never find a snail without its shell. Contrary to what some claim, snails are fused to the inside of the shell they inhabit, so they cannot leave the shell entirely. Part of the body, however, will fall out.

Aside from that visible signal your snail is dead, you will also notice a rancid smell. Within 24 hours, the dead snail will start to decompose rapidly, and the smell will be noxious.

What To Do When A Snail Has Died

As mentioned earlier, snails, when they are dead, will become toxic to their environment in a matter of days. You have to remove them immediately.

When you have figured out the snail is dead, remove it from the tank carefully (if you haven’t already). If there are any other snails in your tank, remove the other snails first. You do not want to risk any disease remaining infecting your other snails and killing them off.

After you have removed the dead snail, change the water. Again, this is to reduce the risk of contamination.

Do you Know How To Tell if a Snail Has Died?

Hopefully, by the end of this article, you now know how to tell if a snail is dead or if something else is wrong. You should also know some ways to keep your snails healthier for longer periods. Remember, since snails will decompose within a few hours of death, you need to act quickly to ensure that your other snails and fish remain unaffected.

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