Why is my Snail Digging & Burying Itself? (5 Easy Solutions)

Snails are quite fun to grow, mostly because they do not require much. However, sometimes they behave worryingly. For example, I caught one of my snails digging holes and burying itself in the substrate quite a few times. As time passed, I learned a few common reasons for that issue.

Snails typically dig holes in the substrate due to stressful conditions, including inadequate temperature, elevated toxins, and aggressive tankmates. However, snails may also dig and bury themselves in search of food and leftovers. But in some cases, the snail is merely sleeping or hibernating.

As we move forward, I will show you which snails are more likely to dig holes and in which cases the behavior is absolutely natural. I will also present five essential steps that you should take to make sure that the snail isn’t actually suffering.

Why is my Snail Digging & Burrowing?

Experiments have shown that snails will burrow in search of damp conditions once the water in their environment starts to deplete.[1] But that is more likely to happen in the wild. The water in an aquarium would never evaporate to the point where the snail had to dig into the substrate to survive.

In that regard, if your snail keeps digging and burying itself, you have to look for alternative explanations, which include:

1. The Water is not Suitable for Snails

When the conditions in an aquarium deteriorate, most aquarium creatures will respond by attempting to escape. Fish will frequent the surface because they have no means of safely leaving the tank. Though, some fish have been known to jump out of aquariums without lids.

However, snails have more options. They can climb the walls of the tank until they escape the water altogether. This assumes that the tank isn’t filled to the brim. But some snails will attempt to find relief by burrowing into the substrate.

This can happen in situations where the water is too hot or too cold. It can also happen in situations where the tank is not only too small but also overcrowded. Like fish, the wrong parameters, including the pH, are a source of discomfort for snails.

The act of burrowing cannot protect a snail from poor water conditions, mainly if those water conditions include dangerous toxins like chloramine and ammonia. Digging is merely a response to the stress, one that may even offer temporary relief. Those poor conditions will eventually lead to death if they persist, regardless of how deep your snails dig.

2. The Snail is Stressed

Low water conditions are just one potential cause of stress in snails. Other contributing factors include insufficient calcium levels, violent encounters with fish, overstocking, and the absence of food.

Despite their size, research has shown that snails are just as susceptible to stress as humans, and they have similar reactions.[2] They are compelled to seek an escape from the stress factors in their environment. One avenue of escape is the substrate into which they will burrow once the stress mounts to unbearable levels.

3. Cover for Breeding and Reproduction

Sometimes, digging is a consequence of breeding. Some snails lay eggs, while others are livebearers (which means that they give birth to live snails). Snails can breed in any location that suits them. Some species deposit their young above the water level.

But some snails will dig into the substrate before reproducing due to a natural attribute associated with their species. Some species merely determine that they need the cover provided by the substrate to protect their offspring.[3]

Similar behavior has been seen in land snails. They dig into soft and moist soil whose damp conditions will permit their young ones to thrive.[4] If your snail chooses to dig through the substrate, I suggest that you observe carefully and follow its next steps.

4. Your Snail is Sleeping or Hibernating

Like fish, snails sleep. However, they do not have a traditional day/night routine. Snails can sleep at any time, and their sleep cycle can last for several days. More to the point, they can sleep in any location that piques their interest.

That includes the walls of the tank, the leaves and plants, and even the substrate. This tends to incite worry in some aquarists, mostly when a burrowing snail has decided to hibernate. Such long absences are not quite as unnatural as they seem.

5. The Snail did not Get Used to its Surroundings

Is your snail new to the tank? Like fish, it takes some snails a while to grow accustomed to a new aquatic environment. While some snails merely become inactive during this period, others will burrow into the substrate. 

There they will stay until they become comfortable with the new aquarium. If this behavior persists, you must consider the possibility that some other element in the tank is responsible for the fear that has prevented the snail from leaving its hiding place.

6. The Snail Seeks Cover From its Tankmates

The wrong fish can send your snails into hiding. If creatures like guppies keep nibbling on them or directly attacking them, they will burrow into the substrate to escape this hostility. After all, snails are in no position to fight back. Their only option is to stay out of sight.

Your fish do not have to attack your snails directly to compel them to dig into the substrate. Persistent conflicts between large, aggressive fish can also create a sense of danger in the tank. The snails will respond in the same way. They will endeavor to stay out of sight by burrowing.

7. It’s the Snail’s Nocturnal Behavior

Snails have a reputation for manifesting nocturnal patterns. They tend to remain inactive during the day. But once nighttime falls and the lights are switched off, they will come to life to feed, hunt, explore, etc. Some snails will go so far as to dig into the substrate to escape the light of daytime. 

This is another common source of worry for new aquarists. If they do not realize that their snails are nocturnal, they may erroneously presume that the snails are always in hiding, especially if they never observe their tank at night when the lights are off.

8. Some Species Dig More Than Others

While burrowing is perfectly normal behavior for snails, either as a means of escape from predators or because they need to lay eggs, some varieties of snails are more likely to dig into the substrate than others. 

Some species will even bury themselves in the absence of factors like stress. One example is the Malaysian Trumpet Snail, which spends so much time in the gravel that you rarely see it.[5] Another example is the Black Devil Snail, which also loves to dig.[6]

9. Your Snail is Searching Food

In some cases, food is the driving factor behind burrowing. Malaysian Trumpet snails will dig into the substrate because they want to reach any algae that might have grown on the aquarium’s bottom.

They will also dig because they want to find algae embedded within or growing under the substrate. They will do this with enthusiasm in situations where the aquarist has failed to complement their diet with external food sources.

Assassin snails will explore the gravel because they expect to find hidden snails. Generally, the species has been known to hide in the substrate to create opportunities to ambush prey.

How to Deal with Snails that Frequently Dig Holes?

Snails that dig holes are tricky. On the one hand, they will aerate the substrate. On the other hand, they are more than capable of uprooting your plants. So no one would blame you for taking steps to stop them from digging.

It is worth noting that you cannot stop some snails from burrowing, especially if it is in their nature to burrow. The same is true for snails that have a preference for this practice. However, if an external factor caused the digging, you can use the following steps to stop this behavior:

1. Improving Water Quality

If the tank conditions have forced your snail to seek refuge within the substrate, I highly suggest that you perform a water change. This will immediately improve the quality of the water. As a rule of thumb, it is best to replace 10 to 15 percent of the water weekly.[7]

Depending on how poor the situation has become, a professional may encourage you to use conditioners to remove toxins like ammonia within minutes. Snails in a tank with clean water free of toxins have fewer reasons to dig into the substrate.

2. Achieving the Right Water Parameters

It isn’t enough to change the water regularly. You must also ensure that the water parameters are accurate, including a temperature of 72 to 82 degrees and a stable pH of roughly 7.5 or higher. Naturally, the type of aquarium snail will determine the exact parameters you must maintain.

To get the best results, I highly encourage you to purchase the API Aquarium Test Kit (link to Amazon). That affordable bundle will accurately measure your pH, nitrates, nitrites, and ammonia. While it lasts for hundreds of measures, the kit will quickly let you know if any of the parameters went wrong.

The water should also be hard, with sufficient levels of calcium. Soft water will erode the shell, negatively impacting the creature’s health in the long run. That is why I like scattering the DreamDealsSG Tourmaline Balls (link to Amazon) at the bottom of my tank. These quickly elevate calcium and balance the pH.

3. Dimming the Lights

Many snails are nocturnal and tend to dig into the substrate to escape the light during the day. For that reason, one way of discouraging this behavior is to change to lower wattage lighting.

Bear in mind that this won’t guarantee results. Some snails will continue with their behavior even if you dim the lights. However, it will give the snails fewer reasons to hide within the substrate during the daytime.

4. Introducing a Few Caves

As was mentioned before, you cannot stop some snails from burrowing. It is perfectly natural for them to respond to stressful stimuli by digging into the substrate. So, rather than discouraging the creatures from pursuing this behavior, you can give them an alternative.

Introduce rocks and caves to the aquarium. Rather than hiding in the substrate, nocturnal snails are just as likely to hide in caves during the daytime. This will prevent the creatures from destroying your aquatic plants.

5. Choosing the Right Tankmates

Some fish are less likely to attack snails than others, including tetras and guppies.[8] However, because snails are small creatures, there is no way for you to guarantee that your fish will leave them alone. You just have to wait and see. 

If you notice that certain fish are repeatedly antagonizing the snails, you should consider taking them out of the tank. This assumes that the aquarium parameters are correct, and elements like overcrowding and disease are not an issue.

The wrong conditions in the tank can cause fish to act violently. But if you have a well-maintained tank and your fish are misbehaving all the same, besides introducing a divider, your best option is to remove the aggressive fish. Some aquarists have snail-only tanks for this very reason.

If this article helped you, here are a few related ones:

Conclusions

If your snail always digs holes and buries itself under the substrate, your first step should be checking the water parameters. It is best to rule out external factors that might have contributed to this behavior, including inadequate temperature and pH.

You should also perform regular water changes, vacuum the substrate, and adjust the right tankmates. If everything seems okay, it could be the snail’s natural behavior. Some snails burrow to sleep or possibly hibernate.

References

  1. https://www.reabic.net/journals/mbi/2013/2/MBI_2013_2_Unstad_etal.pdf
  2. https://curioussciencewriters.org/2014/11/15/stress-snails-pace/
  3. https://fishtankadvisor.com/freshwater-aquarium-snails/
  4. https://www.welcomewildlife.com/all-about-land-snails/
  5. https://be.chewy.com/aquarium-snails-what-to-keep-and-what-to-avoid/
  6. https://www.aquariadise.com/aquarium-snails-aquarium-snail-types-info/
  7. https://www.thesprucepets.com/water-changes-1381886
  8. https://www.fishkeepingworld.com/mystery-snail/

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