How to Tell if Snail is Dead or Sleeping in the Aquarium?

In general, snails have a tendency to remain inactive for a long period of time.

There can be many reasons for this – it could be due to the aquarium water conditions or may they are just feeling sleepy after a hearty meal.

And yes, one possible reason could also be that your snail is dead.

When the snail does not move for a long time or starts floating, it can be a cause of concern.

Before giving you a clear picture of how to differentiate if it is dead or asleep, let us understand briefly why snails remain static /float.

Reasons Why Snail Becomes Static/Float

Here are most of the reasons why snails might not move and/or start floating.

It’S Trying to Travel Faster

If you see a floating snail it may or may not be dead. There are many reasons why the snail floats on the water surface.

It is a common behavior of aquatic snails (Apple snails), just like sleeping. In the wild, especially in flowing streams, snails float to travel faster.

To travel faster, they often come up to the surface and store some air in their shells. This makes them buoyant enough to float.

This saves them energy and also helps them ride the current to another place.

While there is not a lot of current or space in a home aquarium, snails sometimes tend to do that.

Water Has Gone Bad

Bad water can also cause it to remain static/ float in the aquarium water.

For example, there are snail breeds such as apple snails that prefer to climb out of the tanks. And there are others such as assassin’s snails that retract into their shells.

This is because bad water conditions can potentially kill snails.


Sometimes, when the snail is hungry it will float upside down to have the food floating on the surface.

After Meals

Snails also tend to become static or float after a large meal.

If you have recently given it food and then it goes static, it’s just resting.

In most cases after a few hours of sleep, they will start to move again.

Certain varieties of snails, like assassin snails, will eat their prey and then Hibernate for about two to three days, and then become active again.

Changes In Water Parameters

Certain changes in water parameters like temperature fluctuations, less oxygen, ph changes can cause stress to the snail and it stops moving.

How To Check If The Snail Is Dead Or Alive

There are some easy ways to tell a live snail from a dead one.

Smell the Snail!

When a snail is dead, it starts decomposing quickly which produces ammonia. This ammonia has a really pungent smell.

So if you are wondering whether your floating snail is dead or alive, here is a quick test to check this.

Take out the snail from the tank and smell it. If your snail has died and it has been long enough for it to decompose, it will smell quite bad (you can’t miss that).

The body will have a rotting odor.

If it does not have a pungent smell then most probably your snail is alive. The shell will also appear weightless in case the snail is dead.

Check If The Snail Moves

Place the suspected snail in a small container with aquarium water for a day or two.

Check if it has moved. Keep an eye on the snail especially at night since some are known to be nocturnal.

Check If The Body Has Shrunk

When a snail dies, its body shrinks.

If the shell appears weightless, most probably your snail is dead.

If it has been dead for a while, the body will decompose, and the shell will be empty.

Examine the Shell

Carefully examine the water snail shell.

If the body of the snail is no longer inside the cell or if the snail hangs out of the shell and does not move, then the snail may have died.

If the snail does not respond to you picking up the shell and falls out, it is dead.

See If It Is Stuck on the Glass Or Decoration

The snail cannot stick to aquarium wall decoration and usually lies upside down.

If the snail is still stuck on the tank glass, it is most probably sleeping or resting.

Tap the Aquarium Wall/Tug Near the Opening Of the Shell/Tap The Shell

In bigger varieties of snails like apple snails, there is another way to check whether it is dead or alive.

Carefully tug at the trapdoor of the snail. If you feel resistance, your snail is alive.

Tap the shell of the snail. In case it is out of its shell and alive, it will retract back into the shell.

Watch The Fishes Behavior

Check to see if other fishes are bugging the shell of the snail.

This can also cause the snail to retract in its shell, indicating that it’s alive.

How Long Do The Snails Sleep?

Famous for being slow and a good algae eater, aquatic snails are also known for their sleeping patterns.

Snails spend a lot of time staying still which can be a worry for their new owners. Basically, snails can sleep pretty much anywhere and they can sleep at any time.

The duration of their sleep varies from one breed to the other. Some sleep for 2 to 3 days most sleep for over 13 hours in seven small bouts.

If for whatever reason, there is a loss of sleep, snails can carry on as normal until the next set of seven bouts.

What Happens When A Snail Dies?

Like all living organisms, when a snail dies, it decomposes very once that starts happening, it releases a lot of ammonia which makes the aquarium water hazy.

You should be able to smell ammonia. It smells very pungent and quite disgusting.

This smell tends to get stronger after ~24 hours of the snail’s death.

Apart from decomposing, the body will shrink and it may fall out of the shell.

What To Do With A Dead Snail?

The first thing you should do after confirming is to remove the snail and change the water.

If you leave the dead snail in the fish tank, it will release ammonia, which in turn will increase the ammonia level of the whole aquarium.

Since ammonia is toxic to snails, this can lead to more harm to existing snails in the tank.

Some aquarists advise on leaving them in the tank if the aquarium has scavengers like hermit crabs that will feed on anything including snails.

Related: Which Aquarium Fish Eats Snails? 

Before leaving a dead snake in your tank, make sure you have enough hermit crabs and they have started eating the snail.

Because the decomposing body will most likely fuel the nitrogen cycle and algae growth, apart from the spike in ammonia levels.

It is important to remember that the lifespan of popular aquarium snails is very short (one to three years with apple and rabbit snails living up to three years).

So, if you have taken care of it well, you are not to blame when it dies.

How To Dispose Of The Dead Aquarium Snail?

Take out the dead snail, put it in a zip lock bag, and freeze it till the day you are throwing out the garbage.

Throwing it in the trash right away may not be the best idea because of its awful smell.

Try not to handle the snail with your bare hands, use a scoop instead to get it out of the tank and place it in the bag.

If the body is decomposed and not in its shell, check out the shell. Clean using a pocket knife and throwback into the aquarium.

Another alternative is to put it in a bag with a bit of water and let it sit in the tied bag for a month.

Then take the shell out, rinse it off and toss it back into the aquarium behind the rocks for a hermit or another snail that is interested in a shell.

How to Improve the Health of the Aquarium Snail?

People usually tend to keep more than one snail in the aquarium.

Snails need calcium to build their shells. To supplement calcium, try adding cuttlebone which is available in most pet stores. Briefly boil the cuttlebone in boiling water and allow it to cool down.

Next, add it to the aquarium. It will sink with ease.

Another great way to supplement calcium is by adding goldfish vacation blocks. These blocks are designed to provide food over a longer period of time.

The calcium slowly dissolves, uncovering the food.

Apart from calcium supplements, your snail requires clean water and good filtration.

I hope the article has solved your query and given you all the necessary knowledge about snails in the aquarium. All the best.

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