Many aquarists wake up one day to find their beloved snail laying on its side. At least that’s what happened to me a few months ago.
This immediately raises several questions: Is it normal for the snail to lie on its side? Could he be dead or is he just sleeping? What should I do about it?
Since I have gained some experience in this topic, I decided to write a whole article, to answer these questions. Let’s dive right into it.
Why Is My Snail On Its Side?
If your snail is lying on its side, it could be dead, stressed, or simply asleep. If it fell over while climbing on a surface, it may right itself and continue to move normally within a few hours or days.
It is not normal for a snail to lay on its side. Like most creatures, these ones spend most of their time upright.
An aquatic snail can lie on its side for one or more of the following reasons:
1. Your Snail Died
Snails don’t live forever. You’re looking at an average of two to five years. Like most creatures, snails stop moving when they die.
Common sense will tell you to remove the snail before it rots, but only after looking for these signs:
- Dead snails decompose fast and produce ammonia, causing a pungent smell. Testing ammonia levels can confirm this, but a strong odor is a definite sign of a dead snail.
- A dead snail will shrink, falling out of its shell. If you see the shell, but it has no snail inside, the snail died and slipped out of the shell.
- Shells have a trap door. You should feel some resistance when you force it open. The absence of that resistance points to a dead snail.
- A dead snail won’t respond to external stimuli. Don’t test this theory by probing the snail with your bare hands. According to Stanford Medicine, humans can contract schistosomiasis from snails.
Snails can die of old age, extreme temperatures, inappropriate parameters, toxins in the water, and more.
If you are sure that your snail is dead, you can remove it by following these steps:
- Turn off your filter, heater, and air pump. Otherwise, your dead snail might get sucked or caught in the equipment.
- Take a net and gently scoop up your dead snail from the bottom of the tank.
- If the snail is stuck to a surface, you may gently detach it using a soft-bristled brush or a plastic scraper. Try not to scratch the aquarium glass.
- Put your dead snail in a plastic bag and seal it tightly. Discard it in a trash or compost bin. Avoid flushing your dead snail down the toilet.
- Turn your equipment back on.
2. Your Snail Toppled Over While Climbing
Snails are fascinating aquatic creatures because they can crawl vertically and even upside down.
Eric Lauga (Assistant Professor, University of California at San Diego) blames this attribute on the snail’s ability to create ripples through its slime trail and the water in the area by wrinkling its foot.
This creates a deformation in the surface the snail can grip to push itself forward. Occasionally the snail may lose its grip and fall over on its side.
However, snails can fall for various reasons, including diseases and infections, weakness resulting from hunger, attacks from predators, extreme temperatures, etc.
Here are a few signs suggesting that your snail simply fell on its side while climbing and is not sick:
- Your snail’s shell looks healthy and intact, with no cracks or holes.
- Your snail’s body is still attached to the shell.
- The snail may right itself and resume normal movement within a few hours or days.
- There are no other symptoms of illness or disease, such as changes in appetite, behavior, or shell appearance.
3. Your Snail Is Just Asleep
Snails can sleep anywhere. You will find them on plants, decorations, walls, and any other surface that can hold them.
Sleep sounds like an inadequate explanation for a snail lying on its side for hours until you realize that snails can sleep for three days.
That sounds like a lot. But you should also note that snails can remain active for a whopping 30 hours.
In other words, three days of sleep makes a lot of sense. Don’t blame a snail’s inactivity on sleep until you’ve ruled out death.
Here are a few signs indicating that your snail is merely sleeping and not dead:
- The snail is not hanging out of its shell or detached from it.
- The snail’s body is relaxed, not contracted or stiff.
- The snail’s breathing hole is visible and moving slightly.
- The snail responds to gentle nudges or tapping on its shell.
- The snail’s antenna may twitch or move slightly.
4. Your Snail Is Stressed
Snails are susceptible to stress. Common sources of stress include overcrowding, low oxygen levels, and water with low calcium.
Stressed aquarium snails often present the following signs:
- Reduced activity or movement, including extended periods of inactivity, hiding, or lethargy.
- Prolonged stillness or burying itself in the substrate.
- Atypical behavior, such as floating or sinking to the bottom or attempting to escape from the tank in some cases.
- Snails may experience changes in color, including the shell turning black or a loss of coloration.
A study in PLOS ONE found that stress can impair a snail’s memories, which shows that a snail’s response to stress doesn’t differ that drastically from what you see in humans.
Follow these steps if you think that your snail is stressed:
- Provide a diverse and balanced diet to ensure the snail receives adequate nutrition, and consider using a calcium supplement like the Weco Wonder Shell (link to Amazon) for shell health.
- Check the water parameters, including temperature, pH, and ammonia levels, and adjust them if necessary.
- Reduce noise and disturbances around the tank, and make sure the lighting is appropriate for the snail’s species.
- Provide plenty of hiding places, such as plants or decorations, for the snail to retreat to.
- Observe the snail’s behavior closely and make adjustments as needed, such as relocating it to a quieter area of the tank.
And to simplify things, these are the recommended conditions for most aquarium snails:
- Temperature range: 70-78°F (21-26°C)
- pH level: 7.0-8.0
- Ammonia and nitrite levels: 0 ppm
- Nitrate levels: below 20 ppm
- Water hardness: 5-15 dGH
5. Aggressive Fish Made Your Snail Flip On Its Side
Some fish will eat your snails, especially the aggressive species. Others will simply bully the snails, knocking them around and flipping them on their sides.
Here are a few fish species that shouldn’t be kept with aquarium snails because they are too aggressive:
- Betta fish (Betta splendens)
- Cichlids, including African cichlids (Cichlidae family)
- Oscars (Astronotus ocellatus)
- Gouramis, including dwarf gouramis (Osphronemidae family)
- Goldfish (Carassius auratus)
- Barbs, including tiger barbs (Puntius family)
- Rainbow fish, including red rainbow fish (Melanotaeniidae family)
- Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)
- Tinfoil barbs (Barbonymus schwanenfeldii)
- Pictus catfish (Pimelodus pictus)
It’s worth noting that individual fish may exhibit different levels of aggression, and compatibility can depend on the size of the tank and the number of fish present.
Make sure you research each species carefully before adding them to an aquarium to ensure they are compatible with the other inhabitants.
Should I Flip My Snail If It’s On Its Side?
Snails won’t say no to a helping hand. You won’t harm these creatures by flipping them over when they fall on their sides.
In fact, this is what most aquarists do. But again, handling these creatures with your bare hands is risky.
First, they carry parasites that may infect you. Secondly, your hands have lotions and oils that can harm the snails.
At the very least, you should wash your hands thoroughly before reaching into the water and flipping the snail over. Do the same thing after you accomplish your task.
If you realize that a snail is holding tightly onto a particular surface, don’t pull it away. You will cause even more harm.
Can A Snail Die If It’s On Its Side For Too Long?
Look at it from your point of you. If you broke your back and fell to your side, would you die if you stayed in that position for too long?
Yes, you would. Not only would your injury go untreated, but you would starve.
A snail that can’t right itself won’t eat. Additionally, the creature is vulnerable to predators. The shell won’t protect the snail from a fish large enough to swallow it whole.
A snail that can’t right itself should concern you. Lethargy in a snail points to stress or an illness. Either way, you won’t harm the snail by flipping it upright.
How Can I Tell If My Snail Is Sick Or Just Resting On Its Side?
Sick snails are not easy to identify. However, they manifest several concerning symptoms, for instance:
- A sick snail would have stopped eating before it got stuck on its side. Snails eat everything. A snail that doesn’t eat should concern you.
- A sick snail will manifest sluggish behavior. But again, you will notice this symptom before the snail gets stuck on its side.
- Look for cracks and breaks in the shell.
- The shell is thin, dull, and detached from the snail.
Can Snails Flip Themselves Over If They Are On Their Side?
Snails are stronger than people realize. They can flip themselves over even when they fall upside down.
But this isn’t true for every snail. Some snails are too weak to flip themselves.
Megan Christine DeWhatley (University of Louisville) published a paper revealing that high ammonia levels can prevent a snail from turning itself right-side-up, or they can delay this process.
Your snail’s inability to flip itself over should encourage you to investigate the aquarium’s conditions. Test the pH, temperature, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels.
I personally do that with the API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST KIT (link to Amazon). I found this one to be the most accurate and reliable.
If you’re in a hurry, here’s a quick rundown of the key points mentioned above:
- Snails typically spend most of their time upright, and it is abnormal for them to lay on their side.
- There are several reasons why a snail might be on its side, including death, toppling over while climbing on a surface, sleep, or stress.
- If a snail has died, there are several signs to look out for to confirm this, such as a strong odor, a shrunken body, and a lack of response to external stimuli.
- Snails are capable of climbing vertically and upside down, but they can occasionally lose their grip and fall over.
- If a snail is stressed, there are several steps that can be taken to help alleviate its stress, such as adjusting water parameters and providing plenty of hiding places.