The way that snails mate is is one of the most interesting in the animal kingdom. Most snail types (including land snails) are hermaphrodites. That long word basically means that they have both male and female reproductive organs. Each one of them has the ability to create eggs and sperm at the same time. A snail can play the role of the female on one mating session and the role of the mail in another. Not only that, during the act of mating, snails can play both roles at the same time and fertilize each other simultaneously. That is not where the interesting part stop. During the snail mating, they also shoot each other with “love darts”. Those love darts are part of the courtship. But in some cases, it can even kill the mating partner.
Snails Play House: Who Is The Daddy And Who Is The Mommy?
Most snails can be both the mommy or/and the daddy. So how do they decide which is which. Let’s take a step back for a second and think about the reason they are hermaphrodites to begin with.
We sometimes take for granted things that seem trivial to us. For example, our ability to roam and find a mating partner. (That was a fancy way of saying finding someone to have kids with.) Other mammals can also get it done pretty easily. Whether it is on land, in the air or in water, a male can easily find a female, start the courtship which will hopefully, eventually lead to sex and babies.
Now let’s have a look on snails. Snails travel in different speeds depending on the snail type. However, fast is not one of those speed options and can vary between: slow (0.5 inch per second) to very slow (0.1 inch per second). Can you imagine how long it would have taken you to find a mating partner in that speed?
In order to improve the chances for the survival of the species, nature and evolution supplied them with the option to reproduce with whoever they find as long as they are from the same species.
There is however, an exception to every rule. Some snail types are not hermaphrodites. Among those are freshwater and marine species. On some of those, you can identify the gender of the snail by his/her shell. Larger shell will usually mean the female snail (that has the female reproductive organs).
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Chocolate And Roses: What Does Snails’ Courtship Looks Like
So let’s say a snail sees another snail it likes, what does it do?
Before the snail can even start to try to impress his/her partner, they will need to find them first. When you are moving so slow, can’t see or hear very well, you have to rely on your other senses. First, they try to smell if there is another snail nearby and in which general direction it is. This is done using the two sets of tentacles they possess. At the same time, they are tapping the lower set of tentacles to the ground and taste it. Their objective is to find that gooey residue of another snail. Then, it is just about following the trail until they find them.
When they finally do meet, they don’t get straight down to business. As you can expect from snails, they are taking it slow. They continue to taste and smell one another. Each one performing his due diligence which can go on for hours (remember, we are still in the courtship). Going – slowly – one on top of the other, and to the side, tasting and smelling. And then, just as you thought things can’t get any hotter. One snail shoots a love dart into the body of the other snail!
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You might be thinking of cupid when you hear the two words, love darts. However, this is something that is very specific to snails and slugs. As the final act of courtship, snails shoot their partner with a small dart.
Love darts are made from calcium or chitin and they are technically called a gypsobelum. The love darts are very small. In garden snails for example they are about 5-7mm long. If we will scale the size of the snail to the size of an average person, it would be around 40 cm (around 15 inches) long arrow.
The darts are created and exist hidden inside an internal sac of the snail. They are fired just before the actual copulating. The “firing” snail is not targeting a specific part of the other snail body. There is also no part of the snail’s body that was designed to receive the dart. This shootout is not part of the sexual transaction between the two snails. The dart contains hormones that prevent the receiving snail’s body from killing the sperm injected to it later during the copulating.
The process of shooting the love darts is part of the normal mating process of snails. However, it can still cause damage to the receiving snail and in some cases even cause the snail to die.
Under the Sheets: Snails Mating Process
After the long process of courtship is completed and the love darts were shots, it is the time for the snails to start their actual copulation process.
The general idea of the reproduction is similar to humans and other animal. There is a sperm that needs to find an egg. However, this is probably were the similarity ends. The sexual intercourse can be different depending on the species and even on the specific encounter. One option it can happen is that one snail is using its penis to inject sperm into its mating partner. Another option, which is very interesting, is that both snails are transferring the sperm, each one to his partner, at the same time. This will cause fertilization on both side.
On some specific snail species, the entire process can take place without a partner. Which means the snail can fertilize itself without any outside or partner assistance.
The entire snail mating process can take several hours but most of this time is spent on the courtship. The copulation process is usually not that long and done in a few minutes.
Related article: Where do garden snails live?
How Do Snails Give Birth
The snail’s reproductive organs are on the bottom of their body and close to the front to improve their abilities to mate. At the end of the mating ritual, both snails will fertilize the eggs in the other, so both of them will deliver eggs. A snail can carry up to 100 eggs at a time.
Once the fertilization is completed, eggs will grow inside the snail, until they are ready to be delivered. Snails giving birth process is very simple. They lay their eggs in the soil and bury them into separate places inside a small hole 1 to 1½ inches deep in the soil in a cool place. This will protect the eggs and enable them to hatch.
When Do Snails Reproduce?
The snails mating season is usually in the late spring or early summer. In some warmer climates it can happen in autumn or even several times per year. Mating happens after the sunset, when the snails are at their peak activity. The slow mating process is completed, the sperm can remain in the snail for up to a year, but usually snails lay eggs within two weeks.
Snails are mature enough to start reproducing from one month and a half to 5 years, depending on species. The reason is their short life span of five to seven years, allowing for a faster growth rate of the species.
Snails can refuse to mate with another snail of the same species that originated from a considerable distance away.
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Perfect Snail Mating Conditions
It might be a little difficult for you to find two garden snails mating. They require specific conditions in order to start the process. Snails need soil at least 2 inches deep in which to lay their eggs and the soil has to be the right temperature, humidity and composition.
- Soil temperature: around 21 °C (70 °F).
- Soil moisture: 80%
- Composition: 20% – 40 % organic material
Snails reproduce mostly in their second year of life and may lose a lot of weight during laying eggs. Some snails never recover and die after the snail breeding season. Snails will start mating and laying eggs in months with at least 10 hours of daylight. Eggs will begin hatching after 2 – 4 weeks, depending on the warmth. Little baby snails will climb out of their nests after several more days.
As soon as snails hatch they will need a source of calcium to build a stronger shell. The best source of calcium is snail eggs. They will eat their own eggs and others’. This is called cannibalism in snails. Baby snails take three months to look like a snail – still very small, but with all features fully visible.
Read more about snails:
- What You Need to Know About Starting Snail Farming in 2021
- Snail Farming on the Rise in the USA in 2020
- Meet the Snail Farmer: Somerset Escargot
- Nutritional Value of Snails
- Snail Farming in South Africa
- Snail Farm in Vienna
- How to Become a Snail Farmer in 2020
- Snail Festival in Spain
- Is Snail Farming profitable in 2020?
- Leaving a Career in Banking for Snails