How Do Snails Mate: A Quick and Fascinating Guide

Snails are fascinating creatures with unique mating habits. As hermaphrodites, they possess both male and female reproductive organs, allowing for an intriguing reproductive process. The life of a snail typically ranges between 5-7 years, although some can live up to 25 years, and they begin reproducing around the age of one source.

When it’s time for snails to mate, they need to find a partner of the same species. Both snails can fertilize each other during this process, storing sperm for fertilization at a later time source. After mating, each snail lays a cluster of eggs in damp soil, ensuring a new generation of these intriguing creatures source.

Understanding Snail Reproduction

Hermaphrodite Nature of Snails

Snails are fascinating creatures when it comes to reproduction, as they are hermaphrodites. This means they possess both male and female reproductive organs. Some snails change their roles between seasons, while others can simultaneously act as both male and female during mating.

Reproductive Organs

The reproductive organs in snails are as diverse as their species. However, in general, the organs include a structure called the “dart sac” which produces love darts. These darts are used to stimulate the partner during mating, increasing the success rate of fertilization.

Sexual and Asexual Reproduction

Snails primarily reproduce sexually but exhibit some asexual traits as well. In sexual reproduction, snails exchange sperm with each other. On rare occasions, simultaneous hermaphrodites may self-fertilize, resulting in asexual reproduction.

Sexual reproduction:

  • Involves two snails exchanging sperm
  • Increases genetic diversity
  • Pairing stimulates mating and increases success rate

Asexual reproduction:

  • Self-fertilization in some hermaphrodite species
  • Rare occurrence
  • Limited genetic diversity

Snails reach sexual maturity at varying ages, depending on their species and environment. Once they are mature, these animals exhibit fascinating mating habits, such as shooting love darts and exchanging sperm to produce offspring.

The Snail Mating Process

Courtship Rituals

Snails have unique courtship rituals that precede mating. For example, land snails perform an elaborate dance, where they circle each other and touch their tentacles. They also shoot love darts made of chitin or calcium at each other, using a gypsobelum, a special organ designed for this purpose. These love darts are believed to aid in sexual selection.

  • Love darts are made of chitin or calcium
  • Gypsobelum is the organ used to shoot love darts

Copulation

After courtship, snails move on to the copulation process. As hermaphrodites, snails can act as both male and female during mating. However, they still need to mate with another snail to exchange sperm. Some land snails, like Helix aspersa, use their muscular foot to hold onto their partner. Freshwater snails, like periwinkles, attach on top of each other in aquariums to copulate.

Land Snails Freshwater Snails
Use muscular foot Attach on top of each other
Example: Helix aspersa Example: Periwinkles

Transfer of Sperm

The transfer of sperm is a crucial aspect of the snail mating process. Snails use their genital pore to transfer sperm, with some species performing reciprocal transfers. This means both snails exchange sperm simultaneously to fertilize each other. In other cases, a snail could act as a male in one season, then a female in another.

  • Snails use genital pore for sperm transfer
  • Reciprocal transfers are common in some species

Egg-Laying and Incubation

Nest Building

Garden snails build nests in damp soil to lay their eggs. These nests provide a moist and safe environment for the eggs to develop. For example, a common species of garden snail may choose a spot with plenty of calcium, which helps with shell formation. Some factors for nest building include:

  • Moist soil
  • Presence of calcium
  • Safe and hidden location

Fertilization and Egg-Laying

Snails are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female reproductive organs. However, they still need to mate with another snail of the same species for fertilization to occur1. After mating, each snail lays a clutch of eggs in the prepared nest, and the number of eggs in a clutch varies by species and the size of the parent.

Incubation and Hatching

The eggs of garden snails are small, white, and protected by a thin shell, which contains calcium for added strength. The incubation period for these eggs may vary, and some factors that may affect incubation include:

  • Temperature
  • Moisture level

After incubating, the baby snails hatch and disperse, searching for food2. Different species of garden snails may have different rates of hatching success, which depends on factors such as the species’ specific needs and the environment.

Comparison of Garden Snails and Fish Egg-Laying

Characteristic Garden Snails Fish
Environment Lay eggs in damp soil nests Lay eggs in water
Fertilization Hermaphrodites, mate with others External fertilization
Egg Appearance Small, white eggs Clear, transparent eggs
Incubation Time Varies by species Varies by species

Factors Affecting Snail Reproduction

Environmental Conditions

Snails’ reproductive capabilities are influenced by environmental conditions such as pH, temperature, and humidity. For example, freshwater snails typically thrive in a pH range of 6.5-8.0. Additionally, climate plays a crucial role in determining how well snails can reproduce. In regions where rocks and resting spots are abundant, snails can find suitable areas to mate and lay their eggs.

Resources and Diet

The availability of resources and the quality of a snail’s diet impact its reproduction as well. Most snails, particularly freshwater snails, feed on:

  • Leaves
  • Algae
  • Invertebrates

A balanced diet enables snails to grow large and reach their reproductive potential. For instance, a two-year-old brown snail might reach a length of 40-50 mm, enhancing its capacity to reproduce.

Self-Fertilization vs Cross-Fertilization

Snails can reproduce through self-fertilization, cross-fertilization, or a combination of both methods. For example, some species such as the California sea hare can self-fertilize, allowing them to reproduce even in the absence of potential mates. Here are some pros and cons of each method:

Self-Fertilization Cross-Fertilization
Pros No need for a partner Increased genetic diversity
Faster reproduction Potentially healthier offspring
Cons Limited genetic diversity Must find a partner to reproduce
Potential for weaker offspring Slower reproduction

Some snails use a unique mating technique known as “love-dart” to help ensure successful cross-fertilization. They use their sense of smell to locate potential partners. Once a suitable mate is found, the love-dart is used to pierce the partner, transferring a mucus that assists in sperm transfer. This process increases the chances of successful fertilization and robust offspring.

Footnotes

  1. Raising Snails – USDA

  2. Land Snails and Slugs – MDC Teacher Portal

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Snails from the Philippines

 

cave invertebrates
Location: Lanao del Norte, Philippines
November 15, 2010 1:12 am
i would like to ask a help to identify these specimen. i collected these invertebrates from the cave in the Philippines. i find it hard to identify them because i have no standard taxonomic keys and other references. Please kindly help me because they are needed to be identify for my thesis. I hope for your help, as soon as possible. Thank you for your consideration.
Signature: immediately

Snails from the Philippines

Dear immediately,
We do not recognize your snails.

Letter 2 – Snails from Bali

 

Hi Daniel,
Once again, greetings from Goa, India.
I am attaching three images here of two very pretty snails from Bali. Feel free to use them if you would like! And if you do know what kinds they are, I would be grateful!
Cheers
Sucheta
P.S. – I am about to order your book on Amazon! Will let you know once it arrives.

Snail

Hi Sucheta,
We must confess that identifying snails is not our strength, but we attempted to do some research.  We found your yellow snail and possible the other Snail on My Growing Passion, but they are not identified.  Bali for Kids also has a photo of your yellow snail, but it is not identified.  We eventually found a FlickR page where it is identified as
Tropis bekicot, but we cannot verify that name.  Perhaps Susan Hewitt will see this post and write in with a comment.

Snail

 

Letter 3 – Mating Hawaiian Snails

 

GAL Snail Love
LOVE your website! When I saw the loving Leopard Slugs I remembered these two photos I took near Wahiawa, Ohau, Hawaii, November 2005. I believe they are Giant African Landsnails, an introduced species. I found the second couple a few feet away from the first and they look like they are just getting started. For your mollusk fan – I think that is a small snail of another type on the leaf to the left of flirting pair. Thanks for providing all the great bug info. I’ve used your website several times to identify bugs since recently moving here.
Aloha, Chrissie

Hi Chrissie,
Thank you for the wonderful letter and fascinating photographs.

Letter 4 – Public Service Announcement!!!! from (02/25/2006) on Mating Hawaiian Snails

 

GAL Snail Love
LOVE your website! When I saw the loving Leopard Slugs I remembered these two photos I took near Wahiawa, Ohau, Hawaii, November 2005. I believe they are Giant African Landsnails, an introduced species. I found the second couple a few feet away from the first and they look like they are just getting started. For your mollusk fan – I think that is a small snail of another type on the leaf to the left of flirting pair. Thanks for providing all the great bug info. I’ve used your website several times to identify bugs since recently moving here.
Aloha, Chrissie

Hi Chrissie,
Thank you for the wonderful letter and fascinating photographs.

Wpdate: WARNING!!!!
(02/25/2006) Those Giant African Land Snails
Hello again nice bug people,
It was nice to see more snail pictures, but: I wanted to let your readers know that these Giant African Snails (Achatina species) are rapidly becoming an extremely problematic pest in many tropical areas, all over the world, including Hawaii, and they are a pest that is very difficult and costly to eliminate once they are well-established. Florida for example struggled for 10 years and spent a million dollars in order to bring a large infestation under control. For more information see:
http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ppq/ep/emerging_pests/gas.html
Although unfortunately these snails are still being sold in many pet stores, is now actually illegal to own them in the continental USA, and people who have one or more in their possession are being asked to contact their state department of agriculture. For a list of contacts see:
http://www.ceris.purdue.edu/napis/names/sphdXstate.html
You see, when people keep them as pets, the snails often get accidentally introduced to an area, either by letting snails go, or even just by the eggs being accidentally thrown out with soil from the vivarium. These snails can be amazingly destructive to the agriculture and the horticulture of an area, and they tend to trigger the disappearance or even extinction of many interesting local snail species too. In addition (if all that was not enough! ) these problematic pest species can also carry human parasites and pathogens. If by any chance you are reading this and you have one or several of these snails as pets, please do not give your snail(s) to someone else, or throw it (them) out, and please also be very careful not to throw the soil out either, especially if you live in a warm climate area.
Thanks everyone,
Susan J. Hewitt

Thank you for the Public Service announcement Susan.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

7 thoughts on “How Do Snails Mate: A Quick and Fascinating Guide”

  1. I believe these tiny air-breathing land snails are a species within the family Subulinidae. I don’t know very much about tropical land snails, especially those of the Philippines, so I have no idea whether this is something really common or not.

    Snails living in caves are particularly tricky. Inside a cave but reasonably near the entrance you can usually find several of the common species that live in fallen leaves and on the soil outside of the cave too, but deeper within some cave systems there is a (rare) possibility that you may come across a species that is endemic to that cave system.

    Susan J. Hewitt

    Reply
  2. Guido Poppe is a well-known shell dealer and mollusk expert whose company (Conchology Inc) works out of Cebu Light Industrial Park, Mactan Island, Philippines. You might try to email a staff member in the company and see if they can recommend someone who knows the family Subulinidae who could maybe help you work out what species you found. Contact info here:

    http://www.conchology.be/?t=14

    best wishes,
    Susan J. Hewitt

    Reply
  3. I have to say that I am really bad at identifying most tropical snails.

    The pretty yellowish one is a tree snail, and it is a sinistral species, which means that the shell coils in the opposite direction to that of most snails. The “Tropis Bekicot” snail that Daniel found on flickr is dextral, and is not the same at all as this one. But… the yellowish snail on growingpassion.org is definitely the same species! Well done Daniel!

    The brownish snail might be the same genus as the brown and blue one shown on growingpassion.org. But for me it is hard to even hazard a guess as to the family without being able to see what the aperture of the shell looks like. That area can be very hard to see in a live snail; an empty shell is often easier to ID in that respect.

    Tomorrow I will look in R. Tucker Abbott’s “Compendium of Landshells”… but I still may not be able to ID these any better! 🙂

    Reply
  4. The yellow one is Amphidromus perversus (Linne, 1758). There are several color forms and subspecies. The other is Asperitas rareguttata crebriguttata (Martens, 1867)…

    Reply
  5. Yes, it’s in the Subulinidae. Having the size would be nice, but it could be Allopeas gracilis (Hutton, 1837)… introduced throughout the world, except Antarctica. True cave snails are very rare. This one can be found near or in the mouths of caves, but not in total darkness.

    Reply

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