How Many Teeth Do Snails Have?

snail teeth infographic

Have you ever wondered how many teeth snails have, if they even have teeth at all? We don’t think of them as having teeth, do we? They’re just slimy, structureless critters that retreat into their shells at the slightest noise or bump around them. Where in that slimy structure could the teeth even be?

Why don’t we find out?

I must warn you…

You might think I’m talking about aliens instead of snails!

Key takeaways

  • Snail teeth are called radula, which are ribbon-like structures covered in rows of tiny teeth called denticles.
  • The radula is used by snails for various purposes such as scraping and rasping food, drilling into hard surfaces, and defending themselves against predators.
  • The number and shape of teeth on the radula vary between snail species, depending on their diet and lifestyle but it can be more than 10,000 teeth.

Do Snails Have Teeth?

Yes, snails do have teeth – but they are a little different to the kind of teeth that you and I have.

I want you to imagine a cat’s tongue for a moment, with its scratchy keratin spikes that make a scraping sound as it laps across your skin. That’s a little but what a snail’s tongue (also known as radula) is like, just on a considerably smaller scale, and with teeth instead of keratin spikes.

Snails have rows of conical, rounded, hooked teeth on the radula. These teeth actually look a little like cat claws.

Rather than using teeth to tear bits of flesh or leaves, the snail uses its tooth-covered radula to scrape bits of food away, which the snail then ingests. The snail’s jaw is what does the biting action, but instead of chewing, the critter scrapes.

How Many Teeth Do Snails Have?

Some snails have approximately 10,000 teeth. Other gastropod species have more than that – up to 12,000 of them. It almost puts our human set of 32 adult teeth to shame!

You must remember that snails don’t have an upper and lower set of teeth like we do. They have a radula, which is equivalent to our tongue, and it is covered with teeny-tiny teeth in rows. If our human tongues were snail radulae, they’d be as big as our faces.

Isn’t that a frightening thought?

How Strong Are Snail Teeth?

In some species of gastropod, the teeth are strong enough to be able to cut through a rock to get to potential food particles inside. Scientists believe that limpet teeth are tougher than the silk spiders weave, and one of the hardest, toughest materials produced naturally on earth.

Not all snails have teeth quite that strong or hard, however. Limpets have evolved to have strong teeth in order to get to access food, but other snails haven’t gone through the same ‘hardening’ process.

Can a Snail Bite You?

Technically, yes, a snail could bite you. But it wouldn’t exact be a bite; it would be a scrap, just like a scrape from a cat’s tongue. Oh, and you’d likely not feel it.

Not only will a snail retract back into its shell the moment you get close to it, or make a noise around it, but it will do everything in its power to get away from you. It doesn’t want to ‘bite’ you. You are not food to a gastropod; you are a predator.

You might just feel the scrape of a giant African land snail’s toothy radula, but it’s not going to hurt. I’ve owned two of these slimy, giant beasts, both of which I handled regularly, neither of which bit me… to my knowledge.

The chances of you being bitten and hurt in any way by a snail is slim…

Unless you bump into a venomous cone snail, of course. But that’s another story for another day.

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