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Just 20 minutes before writing this I looked at some of the gorgeous rabbit snails in my tank. One was creeping up to the surface, and I wondered whether they can live outside the aquarium too. Instead of giving it a try I hopped online and did my research. Here is what I found.
Aquarium snails can not survive outside of the water for long because their body dries out. If a water snail is placed on land, it would survive just a couple of hours. Some snails go out of the water to eat or lay eggs, but quickly return afterwards. As long as a snail is wet it’s able to survive.
Not all snails like to explore beyond the surface of the water. In fact, there’s just a few who do. In this article I’ll briefly cover what you need to know to get a better understanding of the behavior of water snails.
Can water snails live outside of a fish tank
There’re a couple of snails that rely on lungs to breathe and can therefore get their oxygen from air. Examples of these snails include pond snails and ramshorn snails, which both are common in the hobby.
Pond snails are often seen as pest snails, because almost nobody buys these snails as ornamental snails. Instead, these tiny snails hitchhike into our aquariums through plants that we buy. Either snails or snail eggs are stuck to the plants when they leave the farm or store.
The snails that rely on their lungs can breathe when they are outside of the water, but still can not survive. The reason for this is because their body will dry out when exposed to air for extended periods of time. As long as a water snail can remain wet or moist, the chances of its survival increase.
There are other snails who sometimes leave the aquarium (or the water in general) to lay eggs. The best example is applesnails or mystery snails, which are super popular in our aquarium hobby. When you’re keeping these snails you will at some point find a clutch of eggs stuck above the water line. Below’s a picture of what this looks like.
These snails do have to leave the water to lay eggs (BTW, this article explains what you should do in case your snail has laid eggs), but will always immediately return and therefore do not risk drying out.
Other people’s experience with snails leaving the water
To answer this question properly, I collected stories and experience from other people. I found this info mainly scattered around forum posts like this one for example.
All the stories add up, aquarium snails do not leave the water for extended periods of time. One interesting thing is that water snails do like to (partly) leave the water from time to time. There’re stories of nerite snails that like to sit half in and half out of the water.
Other people have often seen their aquatic snails slowly crawl to the surface and presume that their snails are breathing through their lungs. Articles on the internet do support these stories, as there are many popular aquarium snails that have lungs.
To name a few of these species I visited and read an article that was talking more about how snails “work”. The design of the site made it very hard to read but the information definitely is relevant to this question. I will not link to the article as the site looks sketchy and I do not want to put you at risk.
The four types of snails listed to have lungs are pond snails, ram’s horn snails, fresh water limpets and bladder snails. If we combine this information with other forum responses stating that snails can live up to several hours outside of the water, I think we have the answer.
Can land snails survive under water?
The only logical next question to ask is what is the situation like the other way around? Can “regular” land snails survive or even thrive underwater? To answer this question I turned my attention to this page on a site called “researchgate.net” which seems like a very reliable and almost academic source.
Sir Gary Rosenberg from the Academy of Natural Sciences at the University of Drexel took the liberty of answering this question in truly difficult (borderline confusing) academic language.
To quote mister Rosenberg: Pulmonate land snails will usually drown in less than 24 hours. Operculate land snails can survive much longer in water if the operculum makes a good seal. Also, some operculate land snails, for example Geomelania (Truncatellidae) do not drown, but can remain submerged indefinitely. Dispersal on floating plant material is possible but hard to quantify.
To clarify the answer, we first need to understand what “Pulmonate land snails” are. The definition of the word “pulmonate” is, according to the merriam-webster dictionary, a mollusc of the group Pulmonata, which includes the land snails and slugs and many freshwater snails.
So regular snails drown within 24 hours when underwater. In next part of the answer mister Rosenberg talks about “operculate” snails. This one is easy: snails that use a lid or cover to close their shell. So as long as their lid covers the main entrance, they can survive for much longer. If the seal is tight no water can come in and some snails can even remain submerged indefinitely.
The next type of snails are true water snails, which brings us back to the start of the circle. Isn’t that interesting.
How to deal with pest snails
Many people do view tiny aquarium snails as unwanted and try to get rid of them. I actually like my snails but can understand how hundreds of tiny snails that you did not choose to have in your tank can be annoying. Luckily there are ways to remove and get rid of them that do not involve any chemicals.
I’ve discussed all the options extensively in this article right here on my website, and I highly recommend you reading it. It has a lot of information but lacks in one area: fish eating snails. For this I’ve written an article on its own that goes over the fish you can add to your tank to battle the snails.