Is My Aquarium Snail Dead? 7 Ways To Check

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Did you wake up to check on your aquarium only to find that your snail is not moving? Are you panicking and wondering if the snail is dead? Do you worry you might have caused it, or are you concerned about what made the snail die naturally?

Regardless, do not worry, this is a very common concern, and you will often find out if the snail is really gone by checking for reflexes and just smelling its shell. These are the main ways to confirm if the snail is alive, but there are many other ways, like checking for causes.

Is My Aquarium Snail Dead
Source: @beckys_aquariums

Many beginner aquarists often ask if it is normal for an aquarium snail not to move. This is more so the case when the snail is in a state that makes it harder to know if it is dead or hibernating. This article will take you through all the steps you need to take to know if your snail is dead.

Read on to know what a dead snail looks like and how to differentiate a sleeping snail from a dead one.

7 Ways to Check If Your Snail is Alive

All the ways we will discuss below apply to all types of snails, from mystery snails to dead nerites to the pest Malaysian trumpet snails and the popular ramshorn snails.

1. Snails Are Alive if They Can Hold onto Glass Walls

A dead snail can’t hold onto the glass walls regardless of the species, from small nerites to big mystery and elephant snails. If you see the snail firmly attached to the walls of your tank, the glass, or the décor, then you can rest assured it is alive.

In case you feel a bit skeptical, you can proceed to pull on it a bit. Pull the snail slowly and carefully to prevent any damage to the mantle they use to hold onto the glass, it will heal, but this will affect the lifespan of your snail.

Any resistance means it is alive since it hasn’t dried up and lost its grip. It is good to be concerned, especially if it has been stuck in the same spot for a long time.

To fix this, put in some food and see whether it is feeding. A snail that is alive will start to crawl toward the food.

2. Check for Reflexes

Checking for reflexes seems like the first obvious choice. You want to see if the snails stick onto objects so that you do not take them out of their habitat unnecessarily.

To check for reflexes, take the snail out of the water and touch its belly. This will cause a reflex action in all types of snails, and you can be able to tell it’s alive from its movement. A dead snail won’t move an inch and is often going to be out of its shell.

Also, you can tap on the shell to see if the snail gets defensive and retracts into its hard protector. A dead snail will not retract into its shell, no matter how many times you tap it.

A lot of snails, like the nerites, are nocturnal, meaning that they are active at night because they feel safer. Do not be alarmed when you see your nocturnal snail being still for long hours during the day. Tapping the shell will bring them to life.

3. Shell Smells – the Sniff Test

Smelling the snail’s shell is the best way to know if your snail is dead.

All animals produce a terrible smell when they die. Some scientists believe that humans evolved a repulsive reaction towards such smells since they always indicated death. If you smell the shell of your snail and get a stench foul smell, then we are sorry, the snail is dead.

You can smell the snail in two ways:

  1. Use a tool similar to the turkey baster to such water from the suspect snail’s surroundings. Pour out the water slowly and get closer to smell it as it drips out. The awful stench is unmistakable; you will know right away.
  2. You can also smell it by taking the snail out of the water and smelling its shell up close. This will give you an accurate picture than the first method. The downside is that the smell is hard to get out of your hands, and you may risk dropping the remaining in your house and fouling the whole space.

It is hard to describe the smell, but it is comparable to the smell of rotten flesh, ammonia, and decomposing matter.

As the snail dies, cadaverine and putrescine molecules are produced due to the breakdown of proteins by its body.

The accumulation of such molecules is what produces the unmistakably shocking stench. Another result of this process is that it produces ammonia and increases its concentration in the tank.

The small size of snails means that they decompose very quickly, and this leads to a quick increase in ammonia. Use your test kit to see if your ammonia concentration is at its ideal level.

If you find your snail is dead and the ammonia spiked, your other snails, other invertebrates, and fish are in danger.

High ammonia concentration causes gill damage to many aquatic animals since it decreases gill ventilation; this can lead to repressed immune systems and other complications.

4. Check if The Operculum Retracts

Not all snails have an operculum, also called a gastropod or trapdoor. It is the part connecting the upper surface of the snail’s foot with the aperture of the shell.

The purpose of the trapdoor/operculum is to help retract the fragile parts of the snail into the shell when it is defensive or shy. It also helps the snail stay wet and avoid drying out due to bad environmental conditions.

Use a rod or your hand to tap on the operculum gently; if the snail retracts the operculum to put all of its soft parts in the shell, then your snail is alive.

Some common freshwater aquarium snails with operculum include the nerite snails, mystery, and Malaysian trumpet snails. The Ramshorn snail is an example that has no operculum.

5. Snail’s Body Parts Are out Of Its Shell & Immobile

A snail is dead if its body parts aren’t neatly tucked into its shell and well connected to the base. This often happens when the shell cracks or gets crushed by other animals. This can also happen when the snail doesn’t receive the right amount of calcium to sustain the shell’s strength.

Turn over the shell or pick up the shell from the aquarium to see if the soft parts are inside. This is the method you can start with if you are not a fan of smelling dead animals.

6. Noticeable Death Causes

Your snail is likely dead if your tank has had a recent disease outbreak or fluctuations in the water parameters. These are among the many clear signs that your snail is dead because of the effects they have on the entire ecosystem.

It is important to keep an eye on stable water conditions as well as disease outbreaks on a weekly basis.

7. Transfer the Snail to A Different Tank

If you think the snail is dead or about to die because of a bad reaction to the environment, then taking it out and placing it in another tank will give you the answers.

If the snail responds well to the new environment, then you will know its prior home was stressful and less than ideal. This will help you know the snail is alive and prevent future concerns.

Now That You Have Confirmed the Snail Is Dead, What Is Next?

Start by immediately removing the dead snail from the water. It would be best if you did not leave the snail in there, even if the problem seems benign.

The main reason you want to do this is to prevent a looping effect (domino effect, if you will) where one snail’s death leads to another, and so on.

Some aquarists love leaving dead nails in the tank due to their nutritious benefits, but they forget that water parameters get worse when you have dead snails lying around. The decomposing material may give nutrients to your aquarium plants & animals but also increase ammonia concentration.

You do not want your aquarium to become inhospitable to the alive snails or fish. There are two ways of getting rid of dead snails:

  • Let the snail-feeding fish in your aquarium devour them. This is cleaner and much quicker, but you may find that some of the snail-feeding fish aren’t interested. Proceed to use the second method after two days of inactivity.
  • The second way is to scoop the snail’s body parts with a cup and dispose of it out with the garbage. You use the cup to ensure you do not leave any material lying around. Proceed to place it in a zip-lock bag and place the bag in a refrigerator to avoid your garbage smelling like rotten flesh. Go ahead and put the bag with the trash when it’s time to take the bin out.

Once the snail is disposed of, go ahead and run some tests to ensure the water parameters aren’t affected. You want to ensure there are no ammonia spikes or other changes that may cause another snail to die.

Perform routine maintenance to keep the aquarium water in ideal peak conditions. To ease the process, you can start this off with a water change, more than the usual 20%.

The last step is to place all the neutralizing agents accordingly and look out for other contaminants. Calcium supplements to strengthen the shells are a good place to start since crushed shells are among the main causes of snail deaths.

Facts To Consider When Dealing With Dead Snails

  • Something is terribly wrong if all/many of your snails die in a short time. This is an indication of aggressive snail-feeding behavior, calcium deficiency, or ammonia spikes.
  • Snails are not dead if you find them floating on the surface; it is a natural behavior used for traveling and migration. If the snails float often, then this might indicate they want a new environment due to bad water parameters.
  • Snails can indeed sleep for three years to conserve moisture. Snails are masters at conserving moisture and food by sleeping for long hours. You will often find them inactive for many days, especially after they have eaten a heavy meal. In some cases, sleeping a lot can mean the snail is stressed.
  • Like all living things, snails die. It is important to know the lifespan of your snail to ensure you get long-lasting stocks. Below are some of the average life expectancies of common snails.
Snail Life Expectancy
Nerite Snails 1 year
Mystery Snails 1 to 3 years
Malaysian Trumpet Snails 1 to 2 years
Ramshorn Snails 1 to 2 years
Assassin Snails 2 to 5 years
Elephant Snails 1 to 3 years
Japanese Trapdoor Snails 1 to 5 years
Black Devil Snails Up to 6 years

Also Read: How To Tell If A Turtle Is Dead?

Final Thoughts

You will rarely have to worry about your snail dying unexpectedly if you feed them calcium-rich supplements and ensure their environment does not stress them.

Do not remove the snails from the water for a long time; this reduces the moisture content on their skin and can accelerate their death.

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