How Long Do Snails Sleep?

Last updated: March 29, 2019

Overview

This is one of the most frequently searched questions in Google. Beats me why a lot of people have developed a fascination in the sleeping habits of snails. It might be that they saw a lot of snails on their gardens. Or it can also be that someone saw a snail the day before and it’s still in the same position the following day. So, to satisfy your innate sense of curiosity, I’ll be answering this burning question in this article. I’ll also give you some interesting and bizarre facts about snails.

Circadian Rhythm

Circadian Rhythms are the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour period. Why 24 hours? Because this is how long an Earth day is. Circadian Rhythms respond to light and darkness in an organism’s environment. The sleep-wake cycle is an excellent example of this cycle. Animals, humans included, sleep at night and are awake during the day. This sleeping pattern roughly follows the patterns of the sun.

All organisms have biological clocks. These are their innate timing devices. Biological clocks are composed of specific molecules; particularly proteins, that interact in the cells throughout the body. Biological clocks are present in almost all the tissues and organs. Biological clocks produce Circadian Rhythms. They also regulate the timing of Circadian Rhythms.

So, what does this have to do with sleeping snails? Because we follow a 24-hour daily cycle, we often think that all animals follow the same cycle. Snails don’t follow a 24-hour cycle. They spend hours sleeping on and off. And then they spend up to 30 hours straight awake. Talk about power naps.

Where do they live?

You can find snails everywhere. You probably have a resident snail in your own garden. You’ll probably see one attached to the surface of a wall or your own fence.

Snails are also called gastropods. They are mollusks that belong to the class Gastropoda. Snails and slugs belong to the gastropod family. This family makes up around 80 percent of all mollusks. Gastropods live throughout the world. They live in equatorial regions. You can even find them in the Arctic and the Antarctic regions. While most of them live on land, some species have evolved and can survive in the water.

Among invertebrates, land snails belong to the most widely distributed group. Snails live on five continents. They can even survive in the sub-Antarctic region. Snails are so hardy that they can survive in sub-zero conditions. In the North American continent alone, there are more than 500 native species of snails. These native snails coexist with other species that came from other continents.

What kind of sleeping habits do they have?

These gastropods thrive in areas where moisture is in abundance. A moist environment is critical to their survival. Snails often schedule their sleep around weather conditions. This is one reason why there will be days when you won’t see any snails. Then, there will be days when snails seem to magically appear out of nowhere.

I’ve mentioned earlier that snails sleep for a few hours and can be active for up to 30 hours. Thirty hours is on the low side. In 2011, the results of research carried out at the University of Toronto were published. In the said research, they were able to confirm that snails do indeed sleep. The researchers wanted to confirm that snails really sleep and not just rest. They conducted this by measuring the snails’ response time to stimuli. They tapped on the shell of sleeping snails. They also tried offering food to the snails. They observed some of the snails for 79 days so that researchers could get a better insight on their sleeping habits.

Their research indicated that instead of a 24-hour daily cycle, a snail’s sleep cycle can last up to three days. In a 13 to 15-hour period, snails would sleep in around seven bouts. Then follows the 30 hours of activity I mentioned earlier. They also found out that even if snails lose sleep during their normal sleeping period, they don’t need to make up for it. This is amazing considering how cranky some humans can be if they lose even a few minutes worth of sleep.

Hibernation and Estivation

Aside from their regular sleeping cycles, snails also go into deep sleep. Snails also hibernate. It used to be that when we hear the word hibernation, we immediately think of bears. It has now been proven that snails also hibernate. They do this in order to avoid adverse weather conditions. This is also done when food is scarce.

When they live in cold regions, snails hibernate during the winter months. Snails that live in hotter climates or the tropical regions estivate during the summer months. Don’t worry, this is also the first time that I’ve heard about estivation. Hibernation is for winter and estivation is for summer.

Snails can survive inside their shells for up to three years. This is the root of the claim that snails sleep for up to 3 years. It’s a good thing that snails don’t have jobs or they would have gotten fired already. Imagine not reporting for work for 3 years because you were asleep?.

When snails go into hibernation or estivation, they seal themselves safely inside their shells. They use a layer of mucus that forms a hard cover over the opening. This will keep them safe from predators during their prolonged sleep. This seal can also protect them from small insects like ants, that can harm them when they are defenseless.

What is the difference between a snail and a slug?

Just by looking at them, the most obvious difference between the two is the presence of a shell in snails. The size of the shell differs from one species of snail to another. The shell is always large enough for the snail to completely retract into. This is done to protect itself from predators.

Slugs don’t have the benefit of a mobile home.

Instead of an outer shell, slugs have an internal vestigial shell. They use this shell to store calcium. Since they don’t have a shell to protect them, slugs are prone to desiccation. Their soft-tissue bodies will immediately dry out if exposed to the heat of the sun. This is one reason why slugs are nocturnal. Slugs spend their days under the protective covering of plants or under the soil.

Aside from this external protection, both mollusks have similar features. Both have eyespots at the ends of their slender tentacles. They both have downward-pointed mouths.

Their bodies are soft and have a viscous texture. They often have dark colors with gray or light spots. Although snails and slugs lack legs, they can move because of their muscular ventral foot. The said foot has a wave-shaped movement. This movement is a product of muscular contractions that make them glide. The friction produced by this gliding motion is minimal thanks to the slippery mucus secreted by the foot. The dried-up mucus is the “trace” that snails and slugs leave on the ground as it moves. This mucus is also the one that helps them “walk” vertically on walls without falling down.

Fun Facts About Snails

Snails and Sex

Snails are hermaphrodites. A hermaphrodite is an animal that possesses both male and female sex organs. So, they can reproduce on their own. However, they still need the help of others in the fertilization of their eggs. This is the part where they need to mate.

Snails need to copulate in order to get their eggs to hatch. Snails engage in a battle in order to determine who will give the semen and who will receive. The stronger among the two assumes the role of the male. There is a theory that this mating ritual is important in order to ensure that their offspring will be strong. The semen needs to come from the stronger snail because they don’t want weak or sick semen fertilizing the egg. Of course, this is all just conjunctions. Until we learn to communicate with gastropods, we will never be 100 percent sure.  

A mating ritual between snails can last from one to three hours. And it may not have anything to do with their sexual prowess. Snails just do things really, really slow.

This mating ritual of snails gets even weirder than it is. Several species of hermaphroditic land snails have sex organs that serve as sharp, sword-like weapons. They fire these “love darts”  into each other’s bodies while they mate. A snail’s love dart is primarily calcium. Promiscuous snails use these love darts to mate multiple times with different partners. They don’t do this just because a snail feels like having different partners. The motivation behind this action is so a snail can fertilize as many snails as possible. This is a way for snails to ensure that their species will not die out or go extinct.

Snails and eating

Majority of snails have a ribbon-like tongue. This tongue is the radula, and it contains thousands of teeth. You just can’t see them because they are microscopic in size. Imagine how terrifying snails would look if you can see those teeth! A snail’s tongue works like a file. They use it to rip food up into tiny pieces.

Majority of snails are herbivores. Their diet consists of vegetation such as leaves, stems, and flowers. This is one reason you often see snails in gardens. However, there are large species of snails and some marine-based species that are predatory omnivores. They eat both plants and animals. There are even a few species that are complete carnivores.

Speaking of diet, snails are a delicacy in French cuisine. They call it escargot. Snails are also eaten in many other countries of the world. They serve them fried or cooked in a broth. Southeast Asian countries have delicacies of snails cooked in coconut milk.

Health benefits of snails

Snails are surprisingly healthy food. Snails are about 80 percent water, 15 percent protein, and 2.4 percent fat. The fat that snails contain is mainly healthy fat. Snails also contain essential fatty acids, calcium, selenium, magnesium, and iron. They are also rich sources of vitamins. Snails are also packed with vitamins E, A, K, and B12.

Those who need to watch their weight will find snails as good sources of protein. They are low in calories and fat. There’re just around 90 calories in a 100-gram serving of snail.

Recent studies also found that snails contain a glycoprotein. A glycoprotein is believed to contain cancer-fighting properties. The mucus secreted by snails contains a copper compound that can help heal an injury like scalding. It is also believed that it can help prevent heart disorders.

Additional Resources

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