How to Tell If Your Aquarium Snail is Dead or Just Sleeping

How to Tell If Your Aquarium Snail is Dead or Just Sleeping

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If you’ve just gotten your first snail, or had them for a while, there is a chance you are not familiar with the way snails act. Thus, you may be shocked by one or more in your fish tank that hasn’t moved for a while.

The fact of the matter is snails do tend to remain inactive, and for a lot of different reasons. It could be due to the water conditions or something as simple they have eater and are sleepy. However, it could also be your snail is dead.

So, when not sure, a pretty easy way to tell a live snail from a dead one is to smell it!

A dead snail will have a pungent odor because it decomposes quickly and produces a ton of ammonia. Of course, if your snail does not smell like anything, it most likely is alive.

That said, this article will delve deeper into aquatic snails’ behavior to help you distinguish between a dead gastropod and one that is only chill.

Do Dead Snails Stink? What Do They Smell Like?

As we have already determined, if the shell of your snail stinks, the snail has died.

Dead snails smell particularly awful when they have been dead for a bit (much like most dead things). The body will have a pungent, rotting odor (like rotting food). Moreover, there will be an ammonia spike in your aquarium, which then means you may want to do a serious water change after removing the dead snail.

Another way to explain the smell of a dead aquarium snail is to think of a two-day roadkill in the middle of a summer heatwave.

A dead aquarium snail is just about the most unpleasant smell there is and very hard to get off your hands. So, if it is dead, you will know.

Do Snails Float When They Die?

If your snail floats in the aquarium, it does not always mean its dead, it’s another common behavior of aquatic snails (apple snails), just like sleeping.

Both of these behaviors might be triggered by bad water conditions in the fish tank, which can potentially kill the snails. Breeds like apple snails prefer to climb out of the tanks, while others like assassin snails retract into their shells.

So, if not sure whether your floating snail is dead or alive, you may want to confirm by getting it out of the water gently and smell it. Moreover, if you notice the shell is weightless, this is more reason to do the “whiff test.”

That said, there are other reasons why snails float on the water surface.

In the wild, especially in flowing streams, snails float to travel faster given that they are not the best swimmers.

To do this, they come up to the surface, store some amount of air in their shells, which then make them buoyant enough to float. The snails then ride the current to a new place for a fresh start; the one in your aquarium may be trying to do that.

Another reason a snail might be floating in your tank, other than death, mobility, and water condition, is hunger. In this case, your snail will float upside down to have the food floating on the surface. Of course, this means you need to feed it more.

Moreover, while some snails are good algae eater, not all can survive on algae alone.

For instance, mystery snails are not good algae consumers, but people assume because they are snails they do. The truth is they need a much more complex diet.

So, feed them vegetables like blanched cucumber or romaine lettuce, and other things high in calcium to keep them from remaining hungry and floating to feed on scraps.

Is Your Snail Dead or Sleeping !

Aquarium snails may appear dead, but they often remain inactive while sleeping. They tend to do this after a large meal or due to stress resulting from changes in water parameters.

In most cases, after a few hours of sleep, they will start to move again.

However, if you suspect your snail has died and not merely sleeping, you should remove it from the fish tank for further investigation, and keep a potentially dead body from releasing ammonia in your water.

Smell the snails to check it is not dead, or try any of these other ways to make sure your snail is not dead but sleeping.

This includes:

  1. Place the suspected dead snail in a small container with aquarium water for a day or two and check if it has moved. Keep a keen eye on the snail especially at night since some known to be nocturnal.
  2. When a snail dies, their body shrinks, meaning the shell will appear lifeless. Moreover, if your snail has been dead for a while, the body will decompose, and the shell will be empty.
  3. Carefully examine the water snail shell, if the body of the snail is no longer inside the shell or if the snail hangs out of the shell and does not move, then the snail may have died.
  4. Obviously, a dead snail cannot stick to the aquarium wall or decorations, and will usually lie upside down. So, if yours is still stuck on the tank glass, it most probably sleeping or resting.

Snails like assassins snails will eat their prey and then hibernate for about 2 to 3 days, and then become active again.

How Do (+Long) Snails Sleep?

Famous for being slow and good algae eater, aquatic snails are also known for their intriguing sleeping patterns, hence why most new aquarist get surprised when their gastropods spend so much time sat still.

Basically, snails can sleep pretty much anywhere, and unlike fish which have diurnal sleeping patterns (like humans), they can sleep at any time.

As for how long they sleep, they vary from one breed to the other. Some sleep for 2 to 3 days, though on average, most sleep for over 13 hours in seven small bouts.

If for whatever reason there is loss of sleep, snails can carry on as normal until the next set of seven bouts.

What Happens When A Snail Die?

Like all living organisms, when a snail dies, it decomposes albeit more quickly. Once this happens, it releases a ton of ammonia, which is bad for the tank.

However, you should be able to smell the ammonia quite easily because it usually is very pungent and disgusting. The smell gets stronger after 24 hours of the snail’s death.

So, if one of your little buddies dies in the tank and is releasing ammonia into the water, it will cause spikes in the aquarium, something you don’t want when you have other inhabitants.

Because of this, you also must be aware of the domino effect, where one snail dies and releases ammonia, which then kills more snails and in worse cases, your fish.

Thats said, a snail apart from decomposing when dead, the body will shrink and may fall out of the shell. However, contrary to common belief, the body does not detach from the shell, at least not until it decomposes. or if forced to separate by a predator.

What to Do With a Dead Snail

The first thing you should do when a snail dies in your aquarium is to remove it, check the ammonia levels, and change the water if need be. Even so, some “experienced” aquarist choose to leave them in the tank especially if they have scavengers like hermit crabs that’ll feed on anything including dead snails.

If you have enough crabs (15+) that can eat the dead snail in 2 days, chances are it is ok to leave the dead snail in the tank. However, if it is a big snail, pull it out!

That said, if you choose to leave a dead snail in your tank, be sure you know what you are up against because the decomposing body will most likely fuel the nitrogen cycle and algae growth, over and above spiking ammonia levels.

How to Dispose of Your Dead Aquarium Snail

To dispose of a dead snail, put it in a zip lock bag and freeze it till garbage day. Throwing it in a trash can won’t cut it because of how awful they smell.

Try not to handle them with your bare hand, use a scoop instead to get them out of the tank and place them in the bag.

Howbeit, if you are feeling bold or maybe the snail’s body has already decomposed or devoured by a scavenger, use a pocket knife to remove the remains from the shell. Then take the shell, rinse it off, and throw it back in the tank.

The last alternative is to put it in a bag with a bit of water and let it sit in the tied bag for a month. Then take the shell out, rinse it off and toss it behind the rock works for a hermit or another snail that is interested in a shell.

Eddie Waithaka

Resident Content Creator and Marketer at AquariaWise who talks about aquariums and fish and aquascapes a lot.

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