Snails are well known for being a generally slow moving and inactive species of mollusk, and are thought by some to sleep for long periods of time. However the reality is that most common species of snail don’t sleep for extended periods, and are in fact active more often then they are sleeping. There is some truth to the idea about them sleeping for long periods of time in some species, although these tend not to be common species that most people would ever encounter.
The idea of snails sleeping for years on end has been in popular knowledge for a number of years now, and many people think that this applies to snails that they might find in their yards. However, all common species of snail only tend to live for a few years, and certainly couldn’t sleep for years on end. Most of them are only inactive when it is too hot and dry for them to venture out of their shells. As soon as it gets dark and moist they tend to spring into action and go on the prowl looking for food.
Common species of snail are known to hibernate from time to time when the weather gets too hot or cold, although the majority of these are only asleep for a few weeks or so. More often then not in most climates, hibernating snails are found and eaten before they can become active again, and provide many species with food in winter time when other prey species have disappeared. The range of species that eats snails is huge, from mammals, birds and beetles, right through to people will all make a meal of snails.
There is some grain of truth to the idea that snails can sleep for years however, because there are a few species of snail that live in the desert that can remain inactive for years. However differing from most snails they tend to be able to live for over fifteen years, as well as which they have fewer natural predators. Although when active there are plenty of predators that might prey on them, when they are hibernating there is less chance that they will be discovered.
The life cycle of the snails that live in deserts tends to be a lot different to those who live in more temperate climates as well. Rather then being active all the time, these snails tend to be active only for short periods of time when the conditions are wet enough. They are also generally nocturnal, differing from most snails who will emerge regardless of the time if the conditions are right. Desert snails tend to eat as much as they can when they are active, mate and then return to hibernation and may only be active a few times during their lives.
The main reason that snails need to remain inactive at times is because of the fact that like other mollusks, they need to remain moist in order to stay alive. Water diffuses from their bodies very easily, and they can quickly become dried out, which of course can kill them. Snails also need to retain a lot of water inside them in order to generate the slime trail that they produce to keep them moving. In dry conditions this problem is worsened due to the fact that the ground being dry tends to make more dust and grime stick to them if they move around.
One of the reasons that common snails tent not to sleep for as long as desert snails is the fact that they are usually brought out of their hibernation by chemical sensors that wake them up when suitable weather conditions have returned. Whether they detect atmospheric pressure from rain or sense the vibrations of the rainfall is not known.
Other than needing to feed, most snails are fairly self sufficient, and do not require the company of others except for mating. The fact that often around the home snails are found together is usually simply a coincidence because of the fact that they tend to seek out the same kind of shelter. Also most snails can feed on a wide range of different foods, and will usually eat most kinds of leaves commonly found in most environments.