Are Snails Born With Shells?

Are Snails Born with Shells

Are Snails Born With Shells?

One of the most distinctive features of a snail is its shell, which serves as both protection and support for the snail’s body. However, have you ever wondered whether snails are born with shells or if they develop them later in life?

Most species of snails are born with shells. Snails are gastropod mollusks, and their shells are formed from calcium carbonate secretions produced by the snail’s mantle. As snails grow, their shells grow, and they continue adding layers of calcium carbonate to their shells throughout their lives.

This article explores whether snails are born with shells and provide insights into how these iconic structures are formed and play a crucial role in the snail’s life. Let’s delve deeper into this intriguing aspect of the world of snails.

The Beginning: What Happens Before the Eggs Hatch?

Snails have a unique breeding process that sets them apart from other creatures. Unlike most animals that reproduce sexually, snails are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female sexual organs. This means that any snail can be a mom and a dad, depending on the situation.

During copulation, both snails exchange sperm with each other. However, sperm transfer does not guarantee fertilization of the snail’s eggs.

Interestingly, the fertilization process is selective, and one snail will play the male role by shooting a love dart. The snail that successfully shoots the love dart increases its chances of fertilizing its mate’s eggs.

Once fertilization occurs, snails will lay anywhere between 100 and 400 eggs a few days later, depending on the snail species. The more eggs a snail lays, the better the chances of survival for the offspring.

Snails are selective in choosing the location to lay their eggs. They carefully select moist, loamy soil and cover the eggs with a viscous layer and soil.

It takes up to four weeks before the eggs are ready to hatch, and the covering of the eggs helps to protect them during this period.

Learn more about snail reproduction in this article: How Do Snails Reproduce?

The Hatching Process

Snails are mostly hatched from eggs, except for the Malaysian burrowing snail, which bears live young. However, all snails develop their shells while in the gestation phase

The formation of the snail shell begins when the eggs are in the incubating phase and can take some time, usually about four weeks.

The mantle, a vital organ in all mollusks, plays a significant role in the process. The mantle produces the necessary electric currents to direct calcium ions to stand in the right position and form the shell.

Typically, the shell contains limited amounts of protein and a large amount of calcium carbonate. When the shell-forming process is complete, the eggs are ready to hatch, and tiny snails emerge with their shells already in the right position on their backs.

A close observation of the shells reveals that they emerge without any color, which could explain why it might be hard to notice them in passing.

Baby snails are delicate and fragile, and they require all the calcium they can find to grow their shells before they can survive in the wild.

The first source of calcium for baby snails is usually the remains of the eggshell they hatched from. They will eat their egg remains and any other eggs lying around, providing much-needed nutrients. Any eggs that did not hatch become a source of food for calcium-hungry baby snails.

The Growth Begins

The growth of baby snails is a fascinating process. It all begins with their soft bodies and colorless, translucent shells.

As the snail’s body develops, so does its shell, and these two aspects are closely interconnected. In fact, removing a snail’s shell is equivalent to killing it

Like other mollusks, snails create their own shells through a continuous process. The mantle secretes layers of calcium ions, which combine with calcium from the remnants of their eggs. This continuous secretion results in a crystallized shell that grows as the snail grows.

If you examine a snail’s shell, you’ll notice rings that go around in circles. These rings come from adding materials at the tip of the shell, sometimes resulting in non-continuous patterns forming rings.

The shells usually start at the base of the mantle, and new layers are added to create rings that indicate the snail’s age. Each ring corresponds to one year of the snail’s life.

Snails tend to prefer their right side, similar to how most humans use their right hand more than their left. This preference results in the clockwise growth of their shells, and it is rare for a snail’s shell to grow in an anti-clockwise direction.

Have you ever wondered how snails carry their seemingly large shells without feet? The shells are not as heavy as they appear and remain in a position that creates a low center of gravity. The shells are also compact, unlike the rest of the snail’s body, making them easy to carry.

Lastly, it’s remarkable how the snail’s shell grows to accommodate its growing body. As the body gets bigger, the shell expands to make more room. This amazing adaptation allows the snail to continue living in its shell as it grows throughout its life.

Snail’s Shell as a Body Armor: Why Snails Need a Shell

Living in the wild, animals face constant danger from predators. While bigger animals can use their size and strength to fend off attacks, smaller creatures must find alternative means of protection.

For snails, their shells are essential for their survival. A snail’s body is typically soft and vulnerable, but its shell is hard and durable.

When a snail feels threatened, it pulls its soft body inside the protective shell, where it can remain until the danger has passed. This vital defense mechanism enables the snail to survive in a world full of predators.

Interestingly, studies have revealed that a snail’s shell comprises three layers:

  • The outer layer is the hardest, consisting primarily of iron sulfides.
  • The middle layer is somewhat flexible.
  • The innermost layer is as hard as the outer surface but made of calcium minerals instead of iron sulfate.

While the triple-layered shell provides excellent protection against predators, it also serves another essential purpose.

Snails thrive in cool, wet environments, but such environments can sometimes dry up. Snails retreat to their shells to stay safe and moist when it gets too hot and dry.

This critical survival strategy helps snails avoid dehydration and last longer in harsh conditions.


In conclusion, the shell is an integral part of a snail’s anatomy, serving as a protective barrier and a support system for movement.

As discussed, snails are indeed born with their shells attached, and the shell-building process begins in the gestation period.

It’s fascinating to learn how baby snails feed on their egg remains to strengthen their shells, highlighting the importance of the shell in their development.

Overall, the wonder of the snail’s shell is a testament to the wonders of the natural world and the intricate processes of evolution.

Frequently Asked Questions

What to do if I break a snail’s shell?

If you accidentally break a snail’s shell, place the snail in a damp and shady area away from predators. Avoid touching the snail’s body and keep it hydrated by misting the area around it. It’s best to leave the snail alone and let it heal on its own if possible.

Can a snail live without its shell?

A snail cannot live without its shell as it serves as its protective covering and provides structural support for the snail’s body. The shell also helps the snail retain moisture and provides attachment points for muscles and organs. Without its shell, the snail would be highly vulnerable to injury, dehydration, and other environmental stresses.

Can a snail be removed from its shell?

A snail cannot be removed from its shell without causing serious harm or killing it. The snail’s shell is fused to its body and serves as its home and protective covering. Attempting to remove a snail from its shell would cause severe trauma and expose it to numerous risks, including dehydration, infection, and predation.

Do snails keep the same shell?

Snails keep the same shell throughout their lives as their shells grow with them. As the snail’s body grows, it secretes a new layer of calcium carbonate onto the outer edge of its shell, causing the shell to expand. Over time, the snail’s shell may become damaged or worn, but it will continue to live in the same shell for the rest of its life.

Do snails die without their shells?

Snails rely on their shells for protection, support, and moisture retention. Without their shells, they would be vulnerable to predators, dehydration, and other environmental stressors. In most cases, a snail cannot survive for very long without its shell.



  • Paul Odoteh

    Paul Odoteh is an established writer and editor with nearly 10 years of experience in writing and editing. He holds a bachelor's degree in IT and has written for numerous publications and individuals. Currently, Odoteh is dedicated to expanding his blog,, which was inspired by his passion for owning an aquarium. Odoteh Paul

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. J

    That was a rather poorly written piece. The author may know plenty about snails. However, they showed a diminished capacity to answer the questions. Which was the entire point of the article. It was written as if the reader was as learned as the author. Not one “answer” given answered the preceding question. Really a strange experience regarding my understanding of English.

    1. Paul Odoteh

      Hi J. Thanks for your feedback. I have updated the article accordingly. Cheers!

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