You’ll likely find snails in your garden if you water it regularly or after it rains. Since they hibernate or die when it gets hot, garden snails need water to survive. However, can they live in water?
Garden snails cannot live in water because they have lungs, so they cannot breathe underwater. Unlike garden snails, water snails have gills and live in water. Garden snails may go into shallow water to drink and take a bath but cannot swim. If the water is too deep, they will drown.
At a glance, snails appear to be the same. However, garden and water snails have features that set them apart. I’ll discuss some of those differences, their physical attributes, and how they determine the habitats they occupy.
Can Garden Snails Breathe Underwater?
Garden snails need to have moist skin. They have earned their name because they eat, live, and even breed in the garden. It is the perfect habitat for them. However, in case of a heavy downpour, or if they get washed off into a trench filled with water, they may struggle to stay alive.
Garden snails can breathe underwater, but only for a short time. If they stay too long, they’ll drown because they use their lungs for breathing. Garden snails also absorb water through their skin. They prefer shallow waters because they cannot control the water they take in when in deep waters.
Water snails can breathe underwater because they use gills. This feature sets them apart from land snails, which use lungs. Garden snails need water to keep their bodies wet. Otherwise, they’ll dry up. However, too much water will kill them.
How Long Can Garden Snails Stay Underwater?
There are many types of garden snails. They all have lungs, and they live on land. However, they occasionally find water to keep their bodies moist. Garden snails also need water to stay alive. However, they cannot remain in the water for a long time.
Garden snails can stay underwater for a couple of hours but not more than 24 hours. They don’t have gills or an operculum like some other land snails and can only stay underwater until they absorb enough water to survive on land. Garden snails will drown if they take in too much water.
Moisture is essential for garden snails. Their shells help them retain moisture in their bodies for extended periods. When they need more water, they’ll seek a source, but shallow water is ideal because they can get in and out quickly without drowning.
How To Tell a Snail Is a Garden Snail
The garden snail (Cornu aspersum) is the most common land snail species. As the name suggests, they’re common in the garden because they feed on your plants. However, they’re destructive, and if conditions are conducive, they can live in your garden for a long time.
These are the features of the garden snail:
- It has a hard, thin shell, 25-40 mm (0.98- 1.6 inches) wide and 25-35 mm (0.98-1.4 inches) high.
- Each shell has four or five spirals (whorls).
- The shells have multiple colors and shades, but most are dark brown, with stripes, dots, and streaks of gold and chestnut.
- The shells are usually large. Snails use the shells as a cover against harsh weather conditions. During winter, they hibernate for months under the shell. They also use the shells to shield themselves against extreme heat and moisture loss.
- Slimy and brownish-gray bodies.
- When it feels threatened, the garden snail releases frothy mucus to repel its perceived enemies.
- The shell has a small hole. It lets in air, so the snail keeps breathing even when under the shell. The snail will seal the aperture with a thin mucus membrane (epiphragm) when it’s too hot or cold.
- When the garden snail moves, its head emerges. The head has four tentacles. The front two are larger. The mouth of the snail is underneath the lower tentacles.
How Garden Snails Survive Harsh Conditions
Snails are always at risk of drying out when on land. Sea and freshwater snails have gills that allow them to live underwater indefinitely. Garden snails are not as lucky because they have lungs and need air to survive. They also need to maintain moist bodies, which can be difficult on land.
Besides the heat, harsh winter conditions may cause garden snails to freeze. Fortunately, their bodies have biologically adapted to different climatic conditions.
- During winter, garden snails alter their blood components (hemolymph) to allow them to survive low temperatures (minimum -5°C (23°F)). The glycerol antifreeze in their blood keeps them from turning to ice as they hibernate. However, the snails will freeze and die when the temperatures fall lower.
- Garden snails also have an osmoregulatory mechanism that keeps them from absorbing too much water when hibernating during winter. Unfortunately, this mechanism is only effective when the snail is on land, and it is raining or snowing. Osmoregulatory does not work when the snails are underwater because their system will be overwhelmed by the large quantities of water.
- Snails hide underneath structures like stones during the day or when hibernating. They often hide in large numbers to deter predators, like ants. They also stay warm when they hibernate in groups during winter.
Land Snails vs. Water Snails
Garden snails fall under the category of land snails. They differ from water snails because they live in different habitats. Land snails live on land and cannot survive underwater for a prolonged period. Likewise, water snails live in water and on land, but they cannot live on land for long because they will dry out.
|Land Snails||Water Snails|
|Four tentacles||Two tentacles|
|Have eyes at their ends||Have eyes at the base of their bodies.|
|Use lungs to breathe||Use gills to breathe|
|Use shells to maintain moisture on their bodies.||Use their shells to protect themselves from predators.|
Can Water Snails Live on Land?
Water snails fall into two main categories, freshwater snails and sea snails. Freshwater snails live in freshwater, while sea snails live in saltwater. Like garden snails, water snails are adapted to living in water but can also live in other environments.
Water snails can live on land for a few hours because some have lungs. However, they need wet spots, such as mud, decaying plants, and algae-covered rocks. If they stay on land too long, water snails will dry up and die. Some water snails lay eggs on land but return to the waters.
Water snails need water to survive. As long as their bodies remain moist, they can stay on land. However, they will need to return to the water to increase the moisture levels. Like land snails, water snails can only be away from their natural habitat for a short time.
How To Control Garden Snails
Garden snails invade gardens because they get everything they need there. They get water, shade, and food in one place. They feed on vegetables and flowers, yet they have some favorites.
Some of the crops and flowers that garden snails enjoy include:
When conditions are ideal, garden snails can live for up to 15 years. Unfortunately, most snails don’t get to live this long because predators kill them.
Common garden snail predators include:
Garden snails also die when their bodies dry up when the temperatures are too high, and the snails have no easy access to water sources. Other snails also drown when they attempt to drink water and get their bodies wet.
Since they’re destructive, you should take steps to control the snail population in your garden. Here are some of the measures you can take:
- Pour some beer in a bowl to bait the snails. Sink it to the ground, so the snails fall into it with minimal effort. The smell of beer will draw the snails out of their hiding place. Ensure you remove the snails and replace the beer with a fresh supply as often as possible.
- Use store-bought snail traps.
- Spread coarse materials in your garden. Items like egg shells, lava rock, coffee grounds, and sandpaper will hinder the snails’ movement.
- Apply copper-based snail repellents all over your garden.
This video gives tips on how you can control snails in your garden:
Garden snails need water to survive but easily drown in deep waters. They can easily crawl in and out of shallow water, but if they have no way out, they will stay alive for a limited period. Unfortunately, there’s a limit beyond which snails can take in water. Eventually, they’ll absorb too much water, run out of air, and die.
You can read my other article on what attracts snails to your garden here: 14 Reasons Why Your Garden Has So Many Snails