Hibernation and Land Snails

Hibernation and Land Snails

Throughout evolution, many species of snails have developed a survival mechanism known as hibernation.

Hibernation serves as a widespread adaptation to challenging environmental conditions like cold temperatures, low humidity, or scarce food resources.

During this process, they basically seal themselves up in their shells. After that, they slow their metabolism so they do not need to move or eat. Basically, it is like they hit pause until things get better.

In this article, I will discuss hibernation in land snails (mostly Large Land Snails such as Giant African Land Snails, and Archachatina Marginata), what can trigger it, whether it’s harmful to them, and what can be done to help your snails during this period.

Hibernation or Sleep State

Sleep state. Snails, like all animals, spend part of their lives asleep. When they are sleeping, they rest and grow.

It is also worth noting that their sleep is intermittent and lasts throughout the day.

For example, some Pond snails may sleep for 2 hours, broken into 10-20 minute naps. Large African land snails (such as Achatina sp. and Archachatina sp.) spend significantly more time in a sleep state, approximately 4-5 hours.

Besides their regular sleep, land snails can also hibernate when conditions aren’t good for them.

Hibernation. Hibernation is a critical survival strategy for many organisms, including snails, during harsh environmental circumstances. It allows them to conserve energy and endure prolonged periods.

When snails can’t go into hibernation during such adverse conditions, they might use up too much energy, get really thirsty, or struggle to find enough food. This can end up killing them and their species may even face extinction.

Related articles:

Hibernation Process

The snail secretes a special mucus that forms the epiphragm (protective membrane). After that the snail tightens the epiphragm to ensure it snugly fits the entrance to the shell, providing a secure closure.

The epiphragm contains dissolved proteins and grains of calcium carbonate that make it sturdy when it dries out. It acts as a lid that seals the shell’s entrance and helps maintain suitable conditions inside the snail’s shell for hibernation.

There is a layer of air between the snail’s body and the protective membrane, allowing the snail to breathe.

In the hibernating state, snails cease movement and feeding, decrease body temperature, slow heart and breathing rate, and decrease the overall metabolic rate.

Note: Depending on the species, it was noticed that during hibernation, snails can reduce their metabolism from <30% to 6 times lower than the normal rate.

How Long Can Snails Hibernate?

In general, snails can hibernate for several months. For example, according to the study, Helix aspersa (Garden snail) can survive in a stage of dormancy for up to 4–6 months with at least 80% of survival. However, there have also been records where hibernation lasted for 4 years!

Note: Of course, the duration of hibernation will vary depending on factors such as species, environmental conditions, and individual health of the snail.

Snails emerge from this state and resume normal activities when favorable conditions of food availability, moisture, temperature, etc. become normal.

Related article:

What Causes Hibernation in Land Snails

When keeping snails as pets, factors that can trigger hibernation include:

1. Low Temperature

Snails are cold-blooded animals. It means that their body temperature is regulated by their environment. Therefore, a significant decrease in temperature can signal to the snail that it’s time to hibernate.

2. Low Humidity level

Snails need moisture to keep their bodies moist and maintain proper physiological functions.

For example, even though land snails breathe through a simple lung located near their heart, some species can also partially breathe through their skin, especially in high humidity.

So, when the air around them gets too dry, they might go into hibernation until conditions improve.

Related articles:

3. Lack of food

If there is a scarcity of food in the snail’s environment, it may enter hibernation as a survival mechanism to conserve energy until food becomes more plentiful.

4. Health Problems

If a snail gets sick, its body may prioritize healing and conserving energy. As a result, entering hibernation could be a way for the snail to rest and recover until it’s healthier.

Older snails may be more inclined to hibernate, as their metabolism slows down and they require less energy for activity.

Related article:

5. Stress

When snails are constantly stressed, they might go into hibernation.

For example, it can be because of the absence or poor-quality substrate. Substrate lets them burrow, helps keep their enclosure moist, and they might even serve as a source of food.

Related article:

In the wild, these factors usually act together. For example, if drought begins and humidity drops, there’s typically less food available, increasing the chance of a snail entering hibernation as a result.

Is Hibernation Dangerous to a Snail?

Hibernation in snails is a natural protective mechanism. However, there are some potential risks associated with it.

  • If a snail remains in hibernation for an unusually long period, it will become weak or dehydrated. Ultimately, if a snail stays in hibernation too long, it may not have the energy left to get out of its shell.
  • While hibernating, snails reduce their metabolic rate to conserve energy, but if this state persists for too long, it can lead to health issues.
  • Sometimes, snails enter hibernation due to underlying health problems. Unfortunately, it can also make things even worse if the problem is not addressed promptly.

During long hibernation, snails retreat deeper into their shells, making new epiphragms. This seals them off from the environment to conserve moisture and energy. However, each time they do this, they lose some moisture, and their body shrinks slightly.

How to Wake Up a Snail from Hibernation

If your snail has entered hibernation, it is important to first identify the possible cause before attempting to wake it up. When you have found and addressed the cause but the snail still remains in hibernation state, here’s what you can do next:

  1. First of all, NEVER remove the protective membrane (epiphragm) under any circumstances! The snail should handle this on its own. Otherwise, you can seriously harm your pet’s health!
  2. Spray its shell with warm boiled water.
  3. After a few minutes, it should break through the protective membrane and emerge.
  4. After awakening, the snail should be placed in a container with milk for a few minutes to help restore its body’s water balance.

If it did not work:

  1. Spray its shell with warm boiled water again or hold the snail under a stream of warm water.
  2. Place the snail in a terrarium with optimal (for this snail species) humidity/temperature and wait for a while (several hours).

When the snail wakes up, do not allow it to fall asleep on its own. After hibernation, the snail’s body will be weak and depleted, as a result, it may not survive a second hibernation.

In Conclusion

Even though hibernation is natural in the wild, when it happens to pet snails at home, it’s a clear indication of underlying issues that need immediate attention.

Helping your pet return to its normal routine is crucial. Luckily, resolving the problems often leads them back to their usual routines. In rare cases, gentle assistance in waking them up can be helpful as well.

Related article:

References:

  1. Draghici, George Andrei, Cristina Deheleana, Razvan Susan, Delia Berceanu-Văduva, and Dragoş Nica. “Indoor Hibernation of Helix aspersa Juveniles.” In Invertebrates-Ecophysiology and Management. IntechOpen, 2020.
  2. Koštál, Vladimír, Jan Rozsypal, Pavel Pech, Helena Zahradníčková, and Petr Šimek. “Physiological and biochemical responses to cold and drought in the rock-dwelling pulmonate snail, Chondrina avenacea.” Journal of Comparative Physiology B183 (2013): 749-761.
  3. Herreid II, Clyde F. “Metabolism of land snails (Otala lactea) during dormancy, arousal, and activity.” Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Physiology56, no. 2 (1977): 211-215.
  4. Nikolic, Ljiljana, Danijela Bataveljic, Pavle R. Andjus, Ivana Moldovan, Miodrag Nedeljkovic, and Branka Petkovic. “Modification of glial response in hibernation: A patch-clamp study on glial cells acutely isolated from hibernating land snail.” Journal of Biological Rhythms29, no. 6 (2014): 442-455.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Content