Last year I added three mystery snails to my community tank. But I often found them inactive for hours, leaving me in dilemma whether it’s dead or just taking rest. So I started researching on this. Fortunately, I found some quick and easy ways to differentiate a dead snail and a sleeping snail.

After checking out some snail keeper Facebook groups, I found out that most aquarists who have snails in their aquariums often face this problem. If you are one of them, then this article is going to be the medicine for your headache.

To check if your snail is dead or not, first, take it out of the aquarium gently and smell it. A dead snail starts stinking badly even after a few minutes of its death. So if you can smell a rotting odor, then your snail is dead. Secondly, you can check its trapdoor. If it’s open, then your snail has probably passed kicked the bucket.

There are other ways to figure out if a snail is dead. In the rest of the article, I’ve covered all those ways so that the next time you see a snail lying at the bottom of your aquarium, you can easily identify whether it is dead or just sleeping.

How To Tell If A Snail Is Dead?

Snails are often found inactive for hours. Floating on the top or lying at the bottom of the aquarium for hours is a common sight in any snail tank. Such behavior often gives headaches to the aquarists.

A dead snail, like other dead aquatic creatures, begins to decompose immediately after its death and releases large amounts of ammonia. Extensive amounts of ammonia can stress and even damage the internal organs of fish. So leaving a dead snail in the aquarium for a long time can be fatal for the rest of the tank mates.

So how to tell if a snail is dead?

1. Rotting Smell

Smelling the snail is the easiest and quickest way to find out whether it’s dead or not. So whenever you suspect your snail is dead, simply take it out and smell it. Don’t forget to wear hand gloves.

 If your snail is alive, you would smell like the tank water does. But if it’s dead, then your snail will smell awful.

2. Not Responding To Torch Or Flashlight

Snails usually respond to lights. So another effective way is to check the movement of your snail through a torch or flashlight. All you have to do is flash a light before the snail.

If your snail is alive, it will move a bit. But if you can’t see any movement, then your snail has probably passed away. In the case of baby snails, you will be able to see the heartbeat.

3. Falling Out Of The Shell

A dead snail can’t hold its shell. So if you find any empty shell in the tank, look around. There must be a dead snail. To confirm whether it is dead, you can pick it up and check its heartbeat. Or simply tap it two to three times gently.

4. Open The Trapdoor

When a snail is alive, its trapdoor will be closed tightly. You can gently pull the trapdoor of the snail. If it is coming out of the shell, then your snail is dead.

This is the method I use with my mystery snails. They are large enough, so I can easily put my fingers and test them.

5. Not Holding Any Surface

Sometimes snails do not cling to any surface and are found lying at the bottom of the tank. This may happen because of two reasons. The first reason may be the temperature, or other parameters of the tank are not suitable. Or, secondly, maybe the snail is dead.

So when next time you see any snail without holding any surface, check the response and heartbeat of the snail.

Snails Float Or Sink When They Die?

This is not as simple as a yes or no answer. Some snails float when they die, while some are seen lying at the bottom of the tank.

Aquarists often get confused because live snails can also float because of poor maintenance and other reasons. In some cases, snails use floating to move from one place to another without wasting energy.

Whatever the reason is, if you notice any snail floating for several hours, you should step in because maybe your snail needs a hand.

However, the average lifespan of an aquarium snail is about 1 to 5 years. They can even die earlier because of diseases, old age, unfavorable water parameters, or other causes. So if you are keeping snails for a long time, it’s normal to see snails floating or dead.

As I told above, there are a couple of times when your snails may float, even if it’s not dead. Here are some of the reasons for snails’ floating:

  • Snails have gills. When they breathe, sometimes excessive air goes into their lung. In such cases, snails may start to float at the top as a balloon does.
  • If the water temperature and other parameters are not optimal, snails may suffocate and end up floating.
  • Water snails usually stay at the bottom of the tank. If there’s a high-range filtration system, snails may lose balance due to excessive pressure and start floating.
  • The most interesting thing is sometimes they just float to move to another place using the stream.

So if you see a floating snail, don’t panic. It doesn’t always mean your snail is dead. Instead, check the snail following the above methods.

Do Snails Flip Over When They Die?

Some species of snails, for instance, nerite snails, have been seen to flip over after dying. They even do it when they are dying.

Sometimes lightweight snails flip over and explore the tank. These snails can easily get back to their position.

However, sometimes they can even lose balance while climbing the walls of the tank and flip over. Some of these snails can go back to their position by themselves, while some need help.

But there are some snails like Turbo, Nerite, Trochus, Margarita, Astrea and Nassarius that can’t flip over. Actually, their shell is quite heavy. So when they flip over, they get suppressed under their shells.

If they remain in this condition for a long time, they may even die from suffocation. So it is not surprising to see a dead snail upside down.

In such situations, the aquarist needs to step in and lend a hand. Otherwise, he will have to lose his favorite snail.

What If A Snail Is Not Moving? Is It Dead?

It is the most asked question of almost all beginner snail keepers. Snails can be inactive for several hours. Sometimes this can extend for even two to three days. But it doesn’t mean it is dead. There are several factors that influence snails to sit lazily.

Here are those factors:

1. It’s Sleeping

Like all living creatures, snails also need sound sleep to restore their mind and body. After a whole day’s crawling and moving, snails can sleep up to 10 hours. Sometimes they can even take a rest for the whole day. People often take a sleeping snail to a dead one.

2. New Environment

When you change snail’s habitant, it may take one to three days to adjust to a new environment. During this period, they will be inactive and stay hidden in their shell.

3. Cold Temperature

Snails are most active in warmer temperatures. They can’t handle cold. So when the temperature is down, they become motionless.

4. Unfavorable Water Parameters

Unfavorable water parameters are another reason for snails’ inertia. If the PH, GH, and other water parameters are not balanced, snails will hide in their snails.

5. Illness 

You won’t surely wander during your illness. Right? The same goes for snails. When they are sick, they will rest. No need to take them as dead.

Got A Dead Snail In The Tank? How To Handle It?

Nothing can be more terrible than a dead stinking snail in the tank. If you are sure your snail is dead, you have to immediately remove it from the tank. Otherwise, the decomposing snail will release tons of ammonia, and it can be life-threatening for other tank mates.

So when there’s a dead snail in the tank, how to handle it?

Firstly put on hand gloves and put the dead snail in a plastic bag. Now if you don’t want to disturb your neighbors by throwing it somewhere where the smell will spread, freeze it for about one hour. This will decrease the odor. Now you can throw it in the garbage.

Wrap up

Beginner snail keepers often struggle to figure out whether a snail is dead or it’s just taking a nap. In such cases, it’s important to check out the snail and make sure it’s alive. Because if you leave a dead snail in the tank for a long time, considering it to be alive, it can be like leaving poison in the tank.

So whenever you suspect that your snail is dead, check it out using any of the five ways mentioned above.

If there’s a dead snail in your tank, immediately remove it from the tank and dispose of it properly.

Sometimes snails can be motionless for even 2 days or more. It can be because of the snail’s normal resting. In a new environment, snails can be motionless for hours. Unfavorable water parameters, cold temperature, and illness are also important factors here.

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