Is My Snail Alive or Dead?

Is My Snail Alive or Dead

Is my snail alive or dead? This question is often asked in popular fish and aquarium forums by hobbyists that are quite perplexed about the status of their snails.

There are several ways to find out if the snail is dead or alive. So, if the snail does not respond to touches; it is inactive, smells, and cannot hold the trapdoor – it is dead.  

Are you unsure how to tell if your aquarium snail is actually alive (maybe in a deep sleep) or dead? This article will enlighten you on various methods to know the present state of your aquarium snail and how to properly dispose of it in the event of death.

Is my Snail Sleeping or Dead?

A snail’s inactivity for extended periods could make you wonder if it is just normally resting in the tank or completely dead.

Whichever the case may be, here are some pointers that will help you ascertain the condition of your snail so that you can act accordingly:

1.     Snails respond quickly to external touches.

As soon as snails are tapped on their hard shells or moved from a particular position, they will respond swiftly by retracting their fleshy body into their shell.

With that in mind, if you do observe that your snail has been in the same spot for a long while without any noticeable activity or movements, you may tap on its body two or three times to see if it will move.

If it is alive, it may withdraw the antennae, and slowly retract its body into the shell.

2.     Look at snail’s foot.

Another thing to look out for is the foot, this is the snail’s means of locomotion. This muscular organ is capable of expanding and contracting.

The foot also has a gland that secretes mucus. This mucus serves as a lubricant and glue for attachment to surfaces. Most times the snail will attach/stick firmly to the tank glass, substrate, and ornaments in the tank.

If after due inspection, you notice that your snail’s foot is attached to surfaces in the tank, then there should be no cause for alarm, it’s safe to say that it is alive.

However, if the whole body is freely hanging out of the shell and not even responding to touch, the snail is likely dead.

3.     The Snail is floating on the surface of the tank.

Moreover, you may also see the snail floating on the surface of the tank. Some snail species can be buoyant due to excess air trapped in their body.

This is a common snail behavior by the way, although some hobbyists may mistake it for the snail being dead.

If in doubt, you can take the snail out of the water for a few seconds to see if it responds positively by moving the antennae and withdrawing into the shell.

4.     The snail is inactive for several days. Smell test.

Additionally, a snail can be inactive for some days, be it 2-3 days. This period of inactivity is actually a sleep cycle, during this time the snail can stay in a particular spot without moving or attaching to surfaces.

The sleeping pattern of snail is quite different from that of other organisms. On average, most snails sleep for over 13 hours in seven bouts until their next sleep cycle.

A sleeping snail may look like a dead snail, so instead of assuming the worst immediately, you may want to take it out of the water to perform a simple smell test.

A dead snail smells awful (like rotten eggs), you will not confuse this scent with anything else.

So if the snail does not have a foul odor, then it is probably alive, you can confirm further by tapping on its body a few times to see if there are any movements.

5.     Response to the change in environment.

Furthermore, if after several tries and the snail does not respond to your pokes, you can transfer it into a clean bowl of freshwater.

Normally, the snail should become active after a change in the environment, but if it doesn’t respond then it’s probably dead.

6.     Light test

Alternatively, you can also try a light test. It involves holding the snail against a lamp bulb.

This allows you to see through the shell, and if the inside of the snail has shrunk within the shell, then it is no longer alive.

7.     Checking the trapdoor

Lastly, you can ascertain the status of your snail by taking a glance at its trapdoor.

Although not all snails have this structure, the trapdoor will remain closed while the snail is alive but if it is open, then it is possible that the snail is dead.

List of freshwater snails that have trapdoors (operculum):

Freshwater snails that do not have trapdoors (operculum):

In some cases the trapdoor can be completely closed for several days in a row, however, there is no smell to indicate it may have died. What should we do?

First of all, check your water parameters and temperature. For example, if the temperature drops below the comfort range, the snails can hibernate

Second, take a look at its tank mates. The snail can be bullied or annoyed by fish or even shrimp. For example, dwarf shrimp can annoy them by constantly grooming and picking up mucus.

Third, check out the diet. Is there food available? Some snail species do not eat anything but algae (for example, Nerite snails). So, if there is nothing to eat they will starve, get weak, and die eventually.

Main Reasons Why Snails Die in Aquariums

There are many reasons why snails die. Among them:

  • The age of the snail. It can be old.
  • Some sort of infections or parasites.
  • Hunger or low-quality food.
  • Inappropriate water parameters.
  • Big and sudden temperature fluctuations.
  • Genetic trait.
  • Mishandling, breaking the shell.
  • Inappropriate tank mates.

What Happens When a Snail Dies?

When a snail dies it ceases to be active and its muscular body decomposes. A dead snail will emit an odor that is extremely foul and repugnant, it is properly one of the worst smell one can possibly come across.

Yeah, it is that terrible!

This bad odor is due to the presence of ammonia and it will only get stronger as time goes on. A  dead snail will release huge amounts of ammonia in the tank as it decomposes, and this is harmful to the tank inhabitants which include snails, shrimp, crabs, crayfish, and fish.

The body of the snail will hang out freely from the shell when it’s dead, but it won’t detach.

What to do with a Dead Snail

The proper thing to do when you discover a dead snail is to remove it from the tank. As mentioned earlier, the death of an aquarium snail will result in the decomposition and release of ammonia in the tank which will pollute the tank water.

Personally, I would also recommend testing your water parameters. Be prepared to do a water change and clean up the tank if it is necessary.

The tank water should be changed to eliminate traces of ammonia, disease-causing organisms, and also to prevent algae problems that may arise due to poor water conditions.

How to Properly Dispose of a Dead Snail

Knowing how to dispose of a dead animal is essential, you need to make sure that it is executed in a right and proper manner.

 The best way is to scoop out the dead snail with a fishnet, place it inside a sealed plastic bag, and then in a trash bag for garbage collection. You may as well freeze it prior to pick up day.

Another method is to insert the dead snail in a paper bag, dig a hole in your garden or farm and bury the dead snail in it. This way, it will benefit your plants.

Basic Caring for Your Freshwater Snail in an Aquarium

In order to avert untimely death of your aquarium snail and ensure that they are always in a good health condition. Do your best to maintain good water quality and stable parameters, and provide healthy diets that are high in calcium.


Snails need to be fed appropriately with meals that are rich in calcium because they need lots of it to build and maintain strong shells.

Suitable meals include blanched cabbages, carrots, spinach, kale, and zucchini. Another great food option is the cuttlebone. Since snails are known to be slow-eaters, you should be mindful of how you feed them.

Leftovers should be removed the following day, bearing in mind that less of that diet is required next time.

All species of snails require some sort of calcium supplement to help keep their shell beautiful and healthy. Calcium will prevent shells from deterioration. So, I highly recommend reading my article “How to Supplement Shrimp and Snails with Calcium”.

Tank size:

Snails do enjoy roaming about on the bottom of an aquarium, therefore a tank with more surface area than depth would be ideal.

Depending on the species and quantity, many snail species can be kept in a 5-gallon tank (20 liters), however, large tanks are more advantageous.

Water parameters:

Maintaining stable water parameters at the appropriate ranges/values will go a long way in ensuring that your snails are healthy and stress-free.

For this reason, make sure that the water has a PH range of 7.0 – 8.0, a temperature range of 68 °F to 84 °F (20 – 28 °C). Lastly, optimal water hardness value 8 – 12 GH, although snails can thrive within the values 3-18 GH pretty easily.

 Always monitor the parameters and avoid rapid changes in water conditions because it could stress them out, and try as much as possible to maintain ammonia and nitrites at the lowest levels.

Be sure to dechlorinate the water to eliminate traces of copper and other heavy metals, and also acclimate your snails before adding them into the tank to minimize shock that could result in their death.

Avoid the use of medications or fertilizers that contain copper in the tank because snails are very sensitive to it.

Note: Like dwarf shrimp, snails cannot tolerate copper, you can read more in my article ”Shrimp Safe Plant Fertilizers’.

In Conclusion

It would be a wise decision to confirm if the snail is really dead before getting rid of it.

Regardless of the signs of inactivity, it may exhibit, you should make efforts to verify if it is still alive or dead through a simple smell test or using other methods outlined earlier in this article.

After due confirmation of its demise, then you can actually proceed to dispose of it properly.

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9 thoughts on “Is My Snail Alive or Dead?

  1. Hi, thank you for this post!
    I think it has reassured me!
    I recently added 4 Nerite snails to my tank (well established, good temp and parameters etc.)
    In the first hour, all four were busy away chomping on all the algae on ornaments and glass, then the next morning, all four were on their backs on the sand. I corrected them and left them on the sand. 2 days later, none of them have moved. They have their trap doors closed, however each of them relax this slightly, showing just a slither of the foot. But when I tap them, they tightly close up again. No smells, but no movement. Plenty of algae for them and I only have Danio fish in my tank, so I don’t think they’re bullied or stressed out still do you?
    Any advice on what may be the issue with them would be great!

    1. Hi Holly,
      I still suspect there must be something wrong with the water parameters.
      Have you checked them? Can you tell your pH, GH, and KH?
      Best regards,

  2. Hello,

    I’ve had my female Zebra Nerite (Mrs. Clean) for about 2 years now. In recent months, she’s been getting a little slow. She doesn’t stick to the glass anymore, but when she does she doesn’t go far from the bottom. After a few days, she hadn’t moved. I picked her out of the water and poked on her trap but no response. I smelled her, and there was something, but nothing awful? I’ve moved her to a small cup with the same aquarium water as before, I’m going to put some carrot/cucumber/egg shell to see if it is a food issue.

    Temperature: 76-80⁰ degrees, been fluctuating from winter. Rest of the year it’s 79-82⁰ consistently.
    Ph: 7.6
    (My test doesn’t include water hardness, so I’m so I’m not sure)

    I have a filtered, 5 gal. planted tank, fluval stratum, I don’t add any fertilizer. Only tank mate is a well-tempered betta that doesn’t even acknowledge her.

    Your article has really helped! Way more concise than other forums.

    Thank you,

  3. I have a zebra nerite snail that hadn’t moved for a week now. It’s trap door is shut and I have tried to open it, but can’t seem to find anything small enough to be able to tug on it. It’s shell looks healthy. The cause for concern is that it is on the bottom of the tank and slightly floated upward on its back, meaning th point of the shell is up and the foot part is down, but it has not tried to attach to anything for a week. No smell, no ammonia in the water, but it has biofilm on it. I have been checking daily. No response to stimulus. Is it dead? I cannot tell. All the tests say no and I can’t find anything online to explain my snail’s condition all the other snails seem to be fine and active. Current perameters: Ph 7.4, kh 5, gh 6, temp 77, Nitrate 20ppm, amm 0, nitrite 0. Plenty of algea. None of the fish seem to be in distress. When I hold it up to the light I cannot see anything since the shell is so dark.

    1. Hi Amber,
      Unfortunately, I cannot give a precise answer as the main indicators are absent. It is possible that the snail has experienced some form of injury or stress, leading it to close its trap door. Sometimes snails might enter a dormant state, and it can be challenging to distinguish between dormancy and death.
      If I were in your position, I would probably take the snail out and hold/put it under slightly warmer water.
      Best regards,

  4. Thanks for the detailed article, I think the most detailed on the subject, I would love to know, all the snails that are carrion eaters, like the Malaysian trumpet, and pond snails, they will not eat the body of a dead snail?
    I mean do I have to take out a dead snail or is it dinner for them?

    1. Hi YAKOV,
      You’re welcome! I’m glad you found the article helpful. Regarding your question, most snail species are scavengers, so they don’t mind what they eat. However, if you have a small aquarium, it’s not advisable to leave a dead snail in it for a long time. It’s better to remove it altogether if possible, because during decomposition (if it is not consumed fast enough), ammonia will be released, and you might experience an ammonia spike in your tank.
      Best regards,

  5. Hi,
    Thanks for the great article! I appreciate all the details.
    I’m currently visiting Bali. There is a beautiful land snail that has been residing on the ceiling of my balcony since I arrived. Two mornings ago, while I was out on the Balcony eating breakfast, she fell about 10 feet onto the tile floor. She has a crack in her shell but the shell is not broken into pieces.

    I picked her up out of the sun and moved her to a little cup saucer in the shade. She initially Had her head at the shells Opening but wasn’t moving. Over the next hour or two, she did completely withdraw into her shell. So she was still alive At least at that point.

    I’ve put papaya and watermelon slices on the saucer for her each night, but it does not appear that she has come out for them. I haven’t seen Any signs of movement since she withdrew into her shell. Her trap door is not closed and I can’t even see a body inside.

    There is not any odor emitting from her shell, which makes me think that she’s still alive. Maybe stunned from the fall? Maybe sleeping to heal?

    I’m concerned about the crack in her shell causing her to dry out. I don’t have a spray bottle here. I’ve read somewhere else that taping the crack is helpful, but others say no. What do you recommend that I do (about her crack or otherwise) to help her?

    Thank you so much,

    1. Hi Beverly,

      Regarding your question, it depends on the extent of the damage. If it’s just a crack and you can’t see the snail’s internal organs, I wouldn’t do anything except provide food and place the snail in a shaded area. If the damage is more severe, I would follow the procedure described in the article to cover the crack.

      Snails and Shell Problems. Causes and How to Fix

      The problem in your situation is that the fall might have caused internal injuries to the snail. You might only see a small crack, but the actual damage could be more serious. Unfortunately, in such cases, all we can do is hope for the best.

      Best regards,

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