How To Know If Your Snail Is Dead

Aquatic snails are gorgeous and come in a variety of colors and shapes. These little creatures beautify your aquarium with their presence. Snails even eat the algae and detritus in the aquarium to keep it clean (you will still have to follow the maintenance ritual). 

Unlike fish, snails prefer to be inactive for a lot of time. They have languid movements even when active. In such instances, aquarium keepers, especially hobbyists, can be confused and worried if their pet snail is alive or dead.

A snail that doesn’t respond when you pick up the shell is likely dead. An empty shell, a snail falling out of the shell, and a dull or cracked shell are also signs of a dead snail.

A dead snail doesn’t exhibit the same features as a dead fish. A floating snail may not be dead. It is more likely that there’s air in the snail shell, resulting in the creature coming to the surface of the water. Sometimes, it is not immediately apparent if the snail is dead.  

Let’s find out how to determine whether your aquarium snails are dead or alive.

Aquarium Snail Sitting on the Tank Floor: What Does this Mean?

Snails sleep and remain inactive for long periods. If your snail has been on the tank floor all day, you would naturally worry about its health. However, this is common for snails, especially mystery snails.

Mystery snails have long sleep cycles. They may move a little between naps, or sometimes the other fish in the tank knock them around when swimming. Check the water parameters if your snail spends most of its time sleeping.

Poor water quality in the fish tank can affect their health, causing snails to stay tucked inside their shells. 

Water Snails Sticking to Aquarium Glass? It’s Not Dead!

This is good news. A dead snail cannot cling to any surface. If your snail refuses to let go of the aquarium glass, it is very much alive. The lack of activity may be because the snail is resting or unwell. As in the previous case, test the water parameters.

Different snail species require different water temperatures and conditions to survive. For example, tropical snails need warm water with a temperature above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The snail will die in lower temperatures.  

Is a Floating Snail Dead?

A snail floating in the water tank is not a common sight. That said, it is not uncommon either.

If you recently bought a snail and released it into the aquarium water, it is likely to feel stressed by the change in environment. Stressed snails float for 2-3 days until they adjust to the new environment.

Another reason to find a floating snail is if there are air bubbles in its shell. Just keep an eye on your snail and encourage it to come out for food. This will release the air bubble. You can lightly tap on the shell to release the air.

floating snail

7 Ways to Know if Your Snail is Dead 

There are different ways to tell if a snail is dead. Try the following methods to confirm and take the necessary steps (listed in the next section) to dispose of a dead snail. 

Smell Test 

Dead snails and dead fish release ammonia. Take a sniff of the snail’s shell. If you smell bad and rotting food, it means that your snail is dead and has started decomposing. 

The snail’s foot might have a bad smell even if it is alive. This indicates that the water quality in the fish tank is not good and should be corrected immediately.

An ammonia spike in aquarium tank water can affect all fish species. Don’t take too much time to replace it with fresh water. 

Inspect the Trap Door 

Apple snails and mystery snails are large enough for this test. Gently tug at the tap door of the shell. If it is firm and resists your touch, it means the snail is alive. The trap door will open easily if the snail is dead. 

Examine the Snail Body 

A dead snail’s body shrinks before it starts to decompose. Peek into the snail shell to see if you can find it inside. No need to worry if the snail is visible. But it is not visible, or if the shell feels lightweight in your hands, it is a sign of a dead snail. 

Light Test 

Hold the snail’s shell to a light bulb. If you don’t see the snail’s body inside, the snail is likely dead. You can do this for smaller snails, as the trap door test can be difficult.

ways to know snail is dead

New Environment  

One way to check if your snail is alive or dead is by transporting it to a new display tank. Change the water parameters and environment. This can nudge the snail into activity. It will be curious about the change and can come out of its shell to explore its surroundings.

However, don’t move the snail into an aquarium with too many fish or other snails, as it can feel overwhelmed and stressed by the commotion. 

Actions of Other Snails 

Some aquatic animals are natural scavengers. If you find ramshorn snails interested in another snail’s meaty body, it indicates that the other one is dead.

Ramshorn snails can reduce the risk of having a rotten snail in the fish tank. However, you have to remove the dead snail right away. If goldfish or loaches sniff around a snail, it implies that the snail is unhealthy or in danger. 

External Stimuli 

Snails are no different from other living beings. They will react to external stimuli like touching, tickling, or tapping. Gently tap on the snail shells to make them come out.

You can tickle the belly to see if the snail retracts. A sign of movement indicates that the snail is alive. If it doesn’t respond, try another method to confirm if it is alive or dead. 

Dead Snail Vs. Hibernating Snail

Nerite snails hibernate for days and weeks, which can make you doubt whether they are alive or dead. Furthermore, they don’t move or come out of the shell if you transport them from one place to another or one community tank to another. 

However, remember that a dead snail cannot stick to any surface and won’t move on its own. A hibernating snail will glue itself to a surface as it rests. It still has the slime that keeps it firmly stuck to a chosen surface. 

Aquatic snails are known to rest for long periods after a hearty meal. They will sleep until all the food is digested. A snail sleeping during the day is not an issue. The sleep patterns are determined by the environment in the aquarium.

Dead snail

Another important factor to note is that snails take time to wake up from their sleep. Even when you tap on the shell or tickle it, the water snail will not immediately respond.

Be patient and wait for it to slowly come out of its deep sleep. Look closely to observe signs of minute movements as they start to move again. 

Wild snails hibernate for three years. They don’t move for such extended periods! However, aquarium snails sleep only for around two weeks, but that is enough time to make you anxious about their health. 

Why do Snails Die? 

An aquarium snail dies due to different reasons. It is vital to know the cause as it can affect the health of other aquatic creatures in the display tank. 

Old Age 

Most snails in good health die of old age. It’s a natural phenomenon. Assassin snails live for up to two years, while pond snails can last anywhere between a year and two. Mystery snails live for three to four years, and nerite snails have a life span of three to five years. 

Among freshwater snails, bladder snails have a shorter life span and live for only up to a year. They are extremely beautiful and can survive in polluted water.

Toxic Water 

Like many aquatic animals, snails are also sensitive to toxic elements in water and can die due to excess ammonia and nitrate. Maintain the water temperature and change it regularly to keep your snails and fish healthy. When keeping tropical snails, the warmer the water, the better the results.

why do snails die

Not Enough Food 

Snails prefer to eat algae and debris, but you cannot expect them to survive only on algae. Snails can die due to a lack of food. You have to feed snails with other food like sinking shrimp pellets, non-acidic fruits and vegetables.

They eat healthy and decaying aquatic plants, leftover fish food, etc. However, a mystery snail doesn’t eat healthy plants. A few water snails also eat tiny aquatic creatures. 

Copper in Fish Medicine 

Fish are treated with medication containing copper. However, copper is not good for water plants and snails. It can lead to the death of water snails. It is recommended to move unhealthy fish into a quarantine tank for treatment. 

How to Deal With Dead Snails? 

A deceased snail is risky for its tank mates and other aquatic animals. Mystery snails decompose very fast and should be pulled out of the aquarium as soon as possible. 

When you find a dead snail in the water tank, look for signs of distress in other fish and snails. The fish may rapidly swim around, try to jump out, or be uncommonly lazy. These are signs that the deceased snail has released ammonia into the water, affecting the tank mates. 

Remove the empty shells immediately from the aquarium. This rule applies to land snails too. The shells of dead snails should not be left with their living mates.

Change the water in the tank to ensure the correct temperature and pH levels. Keep an eye on the fish and other snails. If they display signs of inactivity, move them into a quarantine tank until they recover.

Once you take the dead snail out, remove its body from the shell and put it in a Ziplock bag. Throw away the body in the garbage bin. If you don’t want to separate the body from the shell, put it directly in a Ziplock bag and dump it in the trash bin. Don’t flush dead snails or fish in the toilet. 

You can wash the empty shells and place them back in the aquarium. They enhance the beauty of your fish tank. You can also use the snail’s shells as décor around the home. 

Final Words 

Keeping snails is a hobby for many people. Snails are easy-maintenance creatures, but determining whether they are alive or dead requires patience. It’s your responsibility to ensure the water snails are in good health.

In return, they will keep the aquarium free of algae and fish debris. Make sure to maintain the water parameters and keep the aquarium lid closed to ensure the safety of your fish and snails.


Is my snail dead or sleeping?

Gently tap or nudge the snail to see if it moves. Your snail could be sleeping if it is firmly glued to a surface. Bring the shell close to the tank lid and see if it is shiny or dull. The shells of dead snails can be dull.

How do you tell if a snail is alive or dead?

A snail is alive if the shell is shiny and without cracks. The snail will be clinging to a surface, and its trap door will be tight. The snail or its foot shouldn’t smell bad if it is alive and healthy.

Does a snail float when it’s dead?

Not always. Some snail species float even when alive. It could be due to stress or an air bubble inside the shell. A floating snail can be very much alive. 

What happens when a snail dies?

The snail’s body will shrink and decompose to release ammonia. This will affect the water in the aquarium and other aquatic creatures. Dead snails also smell like rotten food.

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