Snails and Shell Problems. Causes and How to Fix

Snails and Shell Problems. Causes and How to Fix main

All snails have a hard external skeleton (commonly called a shell) that protects the snail’s inner organs while also protecting a snail.

Even though the shell is very rigid and protects the snail like a suit of armor, it can still be damaged.

In this article, I have gathered all information about the snail’s shell problems and how to fix them based on existing experiments, and the experience of hobbyists. 

Preventive Measures

It is hard to underestimate the importance of calcium in a snail’s life. According to the studies, 95-98% of the shell is made up of calcium carbonate. The remaining 2% mass is compounds of Fe, Mg, Mn, Al, Na, K).

As we can see calcium is the main component of their shell.

Snails’ shells can have several calcified layers (generally two to five). It makes them more firm and resistant to any external influences.

Therefore, if you do not want your snails to have eroded shells, cracks, holes, or lose their color (turn whitish) – provide them with a lot of calcium! I cannot stress it enough, the most likely cause is not enough calcium in the food (for land snails) and water/food for freshwater snails.

So, I highly recommend reading my articles:

–      How to Supplement Shrimp and Snails with Calcium
–      Feeding Guide for African Giant Land Snails

It will help to keep their shell beautiful, healthy, and strong.

Do Snails Survive with Broken Shell?

Snails and Shell Problems. Broken shell and inner organsYes, snails can survive if the damage is not too bad. That is because of their amazing regeneration abilities. The ability to regenerate a shell in order to replace the damaged shell is a recognized characteristic of the snails.

Note: By the way, these abilities are so powerful that can even regenerate their eyes if they lose them.

If the snails have easy access to the calcium, they are 3 – 5 times higher in calcium content (than snails from the wild), which they can use at the time of repairing.

How Snails Repair the Shell

Technically, mobile cells (amebocyte) are formed around the cracked part of the shell and become a ‘temporary’ layer.

In simple words, the snail uses glands located in its mantle and repair the damage by excreting ‘shell substances’ necessary to repair the old shell around the broken place. 

Within a few weeks (usually about 1 or 2 weeks) these cells become fused with calcium and harden the outer coat of the shell.

In an urgent situation, when snails do not have enough calcium in their tissue, they may absorb calcium from the rest of the shell. Unfortunately, by thinning the walls from inside, snails shell become more fragile in general.

Interesting fact: Newly regenerated shell contains lower percent calcium compared to the original shell. However, once the broken part had time to form new layers and harden, it contains higher percent calcium than the original shell.

Although a repaired shell will never look the same again. Basically, like a scar, it is thicker than normal skin; nonetheless, it will not cause snail any inconveniences.

Main Dangerous Factors for the Snail with Broken Shell

  1. Exposed to the infections.
  2. More vulnerable to predators.
  3. Runs the risk of drying out.
  4. Stress (so it will stop eating and hide away).

As we can see, their survival depends on whether it can repair the damage before it gets eaten, dies of desiccation, hunger, or infection.

Main Dangerous Factors for the Snail in the Enclosure

We all want to create the best possible tank (enclosure) for our pets. However, no matter how hard we try to make it nice and safe they can still get hurt.

  1. In most cases, from falling and hitting hard surfaces (like decoration, feeding dishes, etc.).
  2. Eating its own or another snail shell (when there is not enough calcium in the tank).

The Newest Growth Damage

Snails and Shell Problems. Causes and How to Fix The Newest Growth DamageAs the snail grows, so does its calcium carbonate shell by increasing its number of coils, and layers.

The newest growth along the shell edge is very fragile. Therefore, these are the most frequent problems the snail can have.

Solution: Luckily, this is also one of the easiest to repair for the snail. So, there is no need to worry about it at all.

Rasping or Eating Shell Damage

In some cases, when the shell does not grow the way the snail needs (particularly near the aperture), it may start rasping at its own shell to make it smooth, so it is more comfortable for the snail.

The only problem is that the shell can become significantly damaged before the process is done.

In other cases, the snails can start eating each other shells. This is a clear sign that they do not have enough calcium in the enclosure.

Solution: Provide more calcium and/or quarantine the snail for some time.

For freshwater snails, you can read my article “How To Setup an Easy Quarantine Tank”.

Some people believe that different snail species do not recognize other snails as … snails. Well, do not blame them, after all, their brain is very primitive and consists of several types of cerebral ganglia (nerve cell clusters).

Because of that, different snail species may consider other snails’ shells as just another source of calcium.

Snails and Some Superficial Shell Damage

The superficial shell damage means that internal organs were not harmed, even though they can be seen sometimes.

What to do in the first place?

  1. Take it out of the tank.
  2. Keep the snail in a humid environment to stop it from drying out.
  3. Prepare all necessary tools and materials to fix the shell.

Tool and materials you may need, for example:

Snails and Shell Problems. Causes and How to Fix glue

  1. Scissors.
  2. Boiled egg or clean plastic bag.
  3. Gauze.
  4. Clean tissue/wipes.
  5. Cotton buds.
  6. Super Glue (Aquarium Safe) (check the price on Amazon).
  7. Fish tank silicon (check the price on Amazon)

Depending on the damage and your skill, you may not need all these tools.

The Procedure:

Before you even start, think again, sometimes interfering in trying to help them repair it can actually make it a lot worse!

  1. Boil the egg.
  2. Break the egg and take out a thin membrane that is right against an eggshell.
  3. The membrane should be big enough to cover the damaged area of the shell.
  4. Use scissors to create the necessary size and/or shape.
  5. Use cotton buds and clean the shell of the snail around the damaged area. Be very careful, do not let anything to get into the broken shell.
  6. Place the membrane against the broken shell and use the super glue.
    Note: Do not use super glue on the snail’s shell and then place the membrane other the glue unless you are sure that you can do that without squeezing the glue all other the snail. We do not want to press the glue outward! I repeat – make sure the glue stays outside the shell and does not penetrate the inner patch.
  7. Let the glue dry.
  8. If the damaged area is not big, gently use super glue other the membrane. Let it dry for a few minutes. Repeat this step until the membrane is completely covered with hardened glue.
  9. If the damaged area is too big and/or you are worried that you can damage the membrane, take a clean plastic bag and make another patch.
    • Glue it over the membrane.
    • Let it dry for a few minutes. Use super glue or silicon other the membrane.
    • Repeat this step until the membrane is completely covered with hardened glue or silicon.

Some honorable mentions:

When I was researching this topic, I found out that some people

  • used plaster or plaster of paris to fix the shell. After that, they applied a clear quick-dry nail varnish.
  • marine epoxy.

If the Break is More Serious?

Use your common sense.

If the shell is completely destroyed or severely damaged with exposed internal organs when you have to decide the snail’s fate.

Although snails have very little awareness about what is happening to them, a lot of people still ask this question because they feel responsible for their snail lives after all. I will try to name the most popular, quick, and painless way.

  1. It is an interesting fact but snails are apparently attracted to beer. So, give it to the snail.
  2. Once the snail succumbs to alcohol (usually after 15-20 minutes) put it in a freezer.

Do snails feel pain?

Like other invertebrates, they do react to harmful stimuli. However, harmful stimuli are not equal to pain, they are an automatic response to external stimulus.

In any case, we should try to cause as little pain as possible, even when we find it necessary to kill.

You can also read “Do Crabs, Crayfish or Shrimp Feel Pain?”.

White tips on the shells?

In freshwater snails, white tips are often sighs of:

  • Old age.
  • Erosion from no calcium.
  • Erosion from low PH.

In land snails, white tips are often sighs of:

  • Old age. The shell peels off slightly from friction against the hard surfaces.
  • Lack of calcium.

How long Does It Take to Recover?

Depending on the injury, it may be a few weeks, or even months, until the snail is fully recovered.

For the land snails, the recovering snail should be kept in a closed, but well-ventilated enclosure with a cover.

In most cases, freshwater snails can be returned to the main tank once the glue/silicon is hardened.

The Snail’s Shell has a Crack!

If your snail has just the cracks, it doesn’t need any repair.

The snail should be able to heal them all on its own.

Peeling and Flaking Shell

Snails and Shell Problems. Causes and How to Fix Peeling and Flaking ShellSnails with elongated and conical shells may have problems with flaking. When one coil of the shell becomes detached from the others. Even more, sometimes it looks like the coils of the shell are barely connected.

Although it looks really bad, in reality, your snail can still fix the problem on its own. Unfortunately, it can happen even in healthy snails and we cannot do anything about that but hope for the best.

Sometimes the shell does not look cracked, more like a layer of it is peeling.

It simply a lack of calcium in their diet.

In Conclusion

The survival of the snails depends on their shell. So, when it becomes broken, it is our job to help our pets. Luckily, we do not have special skills for that.

In any case, it is very important to be informed and understand how we can fix their shell. 

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