Why is My Snail Floating?

a snail floating in water

Whether you’re experienced or a beginner in the world of keeping gastropods as pets, seeing a snail floating can be quite the heart-stopping experience. If your first thought was that the snail had passed over the metaphorical rainbow bridge, you certainly wouldn’t be the only one – but a floating snail doesn’t always necessarily mean that you have a dead one on your hands.

Allow me to explain myself…

Key takeaways

  • A floating snail is not necessarily dead as it may be using an air bubble trapped in its shell to regulate buoyancy and move to a different location.
  • Snails can float due to the presence of an air bubble trapped in their shell.
  • The air bubble acts as a buoyancy aid, helping the snail to stay afloat in water.

Is a Floating Snail Dead?

No, a floating snail doesn’t necessarily mean the snail is dead.

There are several reasons behind your gastropods spending a lot of their time on the surface of the water. Some of these are good; others are bad.

Floating snails could be dead, unhappy with the water quality in its habitat, or sick.

Alternatively, there could be absolutely nothing wrong with your floating snail(s), or its habitat. Floating could be relatively normal behavior for the snail depending on the species. (As if it all wasn’t complicated enough, right?)

Can Snails Float?

Yes, it is possible for snails to float.

Snails with lungs can get bubbles of air trapped in their shells, either purposely or otherwise. This will make them float up to the surface and bob away. When the gas is released, the snail will stop floating and sink back down into the water again. (Or whatever it usually does.)

Some ‘floatable’ species of snails (with lungs) include:

  • Ramshorn snails
  • Pond snails
  • Otina ovata

These snails in a home aquarium will float for short periods of time. Longer periods of floating could be indicative of something else, however.

What Does it Mean if a Snail is Floating?

Some gastropods will bob away on the water to eat the biofilm, algae, and other organisms that sit on the surface. A few species will also eat floating fish food once the fish are done feeding. Both apple and mystery snails are known for this behavior.

You may also notice that the snails float mostly around the water column from a pump or similar. This is, once again, to get their mouths around the nutrients bobbing away there.

If this happens occasionally, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. If your snails repeatedly float on the surface, looking for food, you might need to feed them a little more.

What Should I Do if My Snails Are Floating?

If your snails have been floating for a longer than usual, it might be the case that something is wrong. They might be floating to literally get away from the water, which is common when the water parameters aren’t quite right.

You should ensure that the water temperature and other parameters are right for all inhabitants of the tank. Gastropods are very sensitive to those changes, and they will quickly become unhappy – and unwell – when they aren’t in suitable conditions.

You should also ensure:

  • Tank filtration systems are working properly.
  • All contaminants (such as dead tank members) are removed.
  • You’re not overfeeding the fish/gastropods/etc.

Finally, you should also check that all members of the tank are suitable to live with one another. Aggressive fish or other tank life can cause some snails, such as ramshorn and bladder snails, to close their snails very quickly, causing them to trap air bubbles and rise to the surface. 

Do Sleeping Snails Float?

Yes, sleeping snails can float.

If a snail has fallen asleep, closing itself off and retracting into the snail, it can float to the surface when an air bubble gets trapped inside. Not all snails do this. The snails that do, will release the air and sink back into the tank after a spell.

Is My Floating Snail Dead?

You will need to take a closer look at the gastropod in question, to see whether it is still alive.

Can you touch the actual body (not the shell) of the snail? If you can, and you do, what happens? If the snail retracts back into the shell to get away from you, it is not dead. (Obviously.)

If you can’t quite reach the body (foot) of the snail, reach into the tank and grab it. Ideally, you’ll be wearing appropriate gloves for this. Is the tank empty? If it is, the snail has sadly died. If the snail is still in there, give it a gentle prod. If the snail moves, you will know it isn’t dead. If it doesn’t, it is likely dead.

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