How does a Snail Make its Shell? Your Full Guide on the Snail Shell

The shell is part of the snail’s body, and it is an exoskeleton that helps protect the snails from predators, dehydration, and mechanical damage. The shell also helps for calcium storage and muscle attachment.

So, how does a snail make its shell? Snails are born with a small shell and through the process of mineralization grow the shell as they get older.

The snail shells have a lot of interesting characteristics. Keep reading to find out more about them.

You might also be interested in learning more about slugs, which are very similar yet still different from snails in What is the Difference Between Slugs and SnailsOpens in a new tab. and on Apple snails in Are Apple Snails Good or Bad? All You Need to Know About Apple SnailsOpens in a new tab..

Snail Shell Characteristics (shape, size, and color)

Snails come in a vast range of shapes, sizes, and colors. Here are the basic characteristics of a snail:

  • Snails have an unsegmented, soft body that is moist, slimy, and long, usually protected by a shell.
  • The body of a snail has a neck, a tail, a foot, a visceral hump, and a head.
  • The head of a snail has a pair of feelers or tentacles. The larger one is located at the top, containing the eyes. The smaller one is located at the lower part, used by the snail to feel and smell.
  • The vascular hump located inside the shell contains key snail’s important organs.
  •  The mouth is located in the lower set of tentacles and the middle area of the head.
  • The snail’s color is largely beige to gray.
  • The shell’s shape can be spiral, pointed, or flat depending on the species.
  • The snail’s shells may vary in color from brown to white or black again depending on the species. They may also be striped or speckled in appearance.
  • The snails can hide into their shell completely if it’s disturbed or senses danger.

Are snails born with their shells?

Yes, snails are born with undeveloped shells and hatch from eggs. The developing shell has a different sculptural pattern compared to the rest of the shell. The shell continues to develop as the snail grows. The number of whorls in the shell increases as the snail grows. Some snails groups have a thickened lip located on their shells and this usually indicates that no further growth is expected. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

However, other snail species such as helicarionids (glass snails) and charopids (pinwheel snails) exhibits non-determinate growth, with the capacity to keep their shells growing even after becoming adults. This stage is called gerontic growth.

When the shells are developing, they appear soft and transparent. Snails require calcium to help harden their shells during growth. This makes the young, hatched snails feed on the egg casing as a substitute for calcium. The snail’s shells grow additively, through the addition of calcium carbonate.

Why do some snails have shells, and some don’t?

Snails do not have the option of surviving without shells, like the slugs! The slow-moving mollusk creatures grow protective shells, which are physically attached to them. Detaching the shell means death to them, as no snail is capable of surviving being separated with its calcified, private fortress.

Can snails feel through their shells?

Yes, snails can feel through their shells. Remember, the shell is physically attached to the snail’s body! Snails, just like other animals, have a nervous system enabling them to feel responses from their surroundings. This means that snails can feel the pain they are subjected to, such as boiling it or breaking the shell.

Can you remove a snail from its shell without killing it?

Generally, removing the snail from its shell means detaching it from its physically attached shell. This will rip off the body, subjecting the snail to death immediately or after some time. If the shell is simply broken, then the snail can survive the damages and heal.

Do snails survive with the broken shells?

Many of us have accidentally stepped on a snail and experienced the crunch of a snail’s shell while tidying or walking in the garden. If this has happened to you, then I know you must have wondered if the snail was still alive or dead, and if it was able to mend the broken shells just in case it survived.

Snails can repair or heal minor injuries subjected to their shell. The snail’s mantle secretes proteins and calcium needed for shell development. Think of the time you had one of your toenails or fingernails break accidentally, and your body was capable of making the repairs and healing.

If the snail’s shell is chipped, cracked, or has a small hole, the snail will probably survive the damages and heal its shell. It may even survive major cracks on its shell like the shell splitting into pieces but still covering the snail’s body. Minor body damages may be healed if the impact is not intense.

However, if the shell looks really crashed with a huge impact on the body, it is very difficult to survive out of such an intense injury. The snail may take some time to die but will eventually die. Snails that are horribly mangled will rarely survive.

The food and habitat of snails

Habitat basically defines what the snails eat, what eats them, and where they live. Let us explore more with some interesting facts about snails’ diet and habitats.

  • There are both water and land snails, with land snails dwelling in land (leaves, sand, under rocks or trees) and water snails dwelling in water.
  • Snails can live anywhere; however, they are not fond of hot weather. They tend to burrow under the ground during hot weather and wait until the weather is cool when they re-emerge.
  • Snails mostly dwell on dark, damp environments.
  • Snails feed by gliding across the food surface. They have a tongue-like part in their mouths called radula that helps them in grinding food.
  • Snails feed on algae, limestone, chalk, plants, and sometimes they feed on each other for the carnivorous species.
  • People, frogs, birds, among other animals feed on snails. Snails are a common French delicacy.

The buying and selling of snails

Snails are easy to maintain as pets. They have grown in popularity as great alternative pets to fish. They are small, quiet, and very easy to maintain in terms of cost. However, just like any other pet, you need to consider a few things when buying and selling snails. Factors like government regulations, health hazards, among other factors must be considered.

This article on “How to buy and transport snails for farming?” can guide you when buying snails especially if this is your first time.

Final thoughts

The shell protects the snails from drying out and predators. However, it does not serve as the house of the snail. If snails are threatened by an enemy, they can pull inside their hard shells to support and protect their soft body.

The snail’s shell is made of calcium carbonate. As they grow older, their shells also grow bigger to offer more room for the growing body. If the shell is damaged, the snail’s body will be exposed and dry out, making it lose its mobility or die after some time.

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