Snails are pretty smart despite their very small size. This can be seen in how they search for food and evade predators.
They are also capable of learning and do this through classical conditioning. This can be easily seen in their ability to recognize their owners through smell, find a mating partner by following a slime trail, and move long distances in search of food or to migrate. Consequently, snails have been used by scientists to study learning and memory for over 25 years. Most snails will live for 5-7 years, which is quite a long time and can be attributed to their strong survival instinct.
It is worth mentioning that no two snails possess exactly the same level of intelligence, especially when it comes to memory formation and retention.
In this article, we will look at how smart snails are, their ability to learn and recognize humans, and other interesting questions about snails’ intelligence.
Do Snails Have Brain?
No, snails do not have a brain or a spinal cord. Instead, they have a nervous system that features a set of ganglia that tends to perform the same function as a brain. It’s essentially a group of neurons responsible for controlling and coordinating different parts of the snail.
The exact number and positioning of ganglia may vary with the different species of snails. But in most cases, it will include two pedal ganglia in the foot muscles, two cerebral ganglia supplying the head, eyes, and tentacles, and two pleural ganglia serving the mantle cavity. Other parts of the snail such as the radula (teeth), lungs, and visceral cavity are also supplied by ganglia.
The ganglia are filled with individual cells often regarded as neurons. For instance, the cerebral ganglia can contain anywhere from 4000 to 100000 neurons depending on the species.
So, even though snails lack a traditional brain, they can perform associative thinking, more than we give them credit for.
In fact, one publication showed that they can make complex decisions using only two brain cells. One of these cells informs the snail whether or not it’s hungry while the other cell alerts it when food is present. The study was conducted by measuring the “brain activity” in freshwater snails as they search for lettuce. This was done using electrodes.
What Is The IQ Of A Snail?
Snails do not have an IQ because it would be hard to gauge this. There are procedures to test for the IQ of an animal; unfortunately, snails do not fit into this procedure.
William Healey Dall, a malacologist and one of the most prominent and earliest scientists is of the opinion that “terrestrial gastropods can learn”, and they show intelligence.
However, the question of what the IQ of a snail is does not have a readymade answer. This is because snails have demonstrated great intelligence in being able to live a long life span. They are constantly hunting for food and getting away from predators. So, their “intelligence” helps them to survive.
However, there are specific ways the IQ measurement of animals can be obtained. But snails do not simply fit into these specificities. Therefore it would be difficult to tell what the real intelligence quotient of a snail is. More so, there is no clear scientific finding in this regard.
Nevertheless, some unverified reports state that snails have an IQ of 0.3 or less. This 0.3 is given to them due to their ability to smell things and detect food fast.
How Smart Are Snails?
Snails are quite smart. This doesn’t mean they can read or write, but they perform well enough to survive, especially when you consider their size.
The smartness of snails is pretty evident in the way they reproduce.
Being hermaphroditic, they can reproduce without mating with another partner. But when they do this, they produce many unhealthy eggs. Having discovered this, snails generally favor mating with each other rather than reproducing on their own. This way, they can produce a good number of healthy eggs, and continue procreating. This reproductive resilience is a classic demonstration of how intelligent snails are and also a good indicator of their success as a group.
Another evidence that shows how smart snails are is the way they communicate. Even though snails don’t speak audibly, they are still able to communicate with each other. With their optic tentacles, they can communicate by touching.
In addition, the slime produced by the snails when on the move also serves as a means of communication. One snail can follow the slime trail left by another snail to find it for mating.
Snails are also capable of associative learning.
They basically use their olfactory tentacles to perceive predators and run away from them or hide in their shells.
However, no evidence has been provided to show that snails are capable of having feelings. In other words, a snail spends most of its energy searching for food and avoiding predators.
Are Snails Smarter Than Dogs?
While snails are smart, dogs are way smarter. This is because, in evolutionary trends, snails are one of the founding ancestors of animal life, and hence are not evolved like dogs.
Aside from primates, dogs have high intelligence and can understand human feelings and emotional states. This is why they’ve been man’s friend for such a long time.
Also, dogs have good eyesight and a well-developed brain that can memorize and follow human gestures, such as pointing and waving. Snails, on the other hand, do have eyesight but they only have “crude vision” (cannot see clearly) and two brain cells that are not able to memorize gestures in the way that dogs can.
More so, while dogs can show feelings and emotions, snails cannot. When your dog sees you yawn, there’s a high chance it would yawn too and scientists refer to this as emotional contagion. Snails are incapable of emotional contagion.
Dogs can love and grow fond of you; snails cannot. It is also possible for dogs to learn language and react to human voices but snails do not have ears. Although snails may be able to detect sounds, they cannot respond in the way that dogs do.
To crown it all, dogs have highly developed brain and so are smarter than snails in many ways.
Can Snails Learn?
There are many evidence that suggests that snails are indeed capable of learning. They mainly learn through associative methods. For instance, if a snail finds food consistently in a sample place, over time it can associate that area as a hotspot for finding food. In other words, it can learn to adopt a particular behavior in response to neutral and biological stimuli.
One evidence that supports the learning ability of snails is seen in the result of research carried out by researchers at the University of Calgary. The idea was to show that invertebrates generally can learn from fear. Some pond snails were tested to see how they responded when their breathing tubes or pneumostomes were tapped in a certain location.
The result showed that when placed in the same location or environment, the snails kept their breathing tubes retracted for a longer period.
A similar response is seen when the snails are exposed to native and unknown predators. For instance, the Canadian pond snails will not respond as strongly to the smell of salamander (unknown predator) as they would to crayfish (known or native predator).
Can Snails Recognize Humans?
Snails can only recognize humans through smell. Despite having eyes on their tentacles, they have very bad eyesight which makes it impossible to see things clearly. They are able to identify their owners through smell and touch.
This is why most snails (pets) don’t withdraw into their shells when their owners touch them. It is because they have gotten used to their smell and touch.
So, if you keep getting close to a snail, over time it will become familiar with your smell and will associate you with it. That is how it’s able to recognize you.
Conclusion: Are Snails Smart?
While snails don’t have a special organ that can be called a brain, they have bundles of nerve cells or ganglia that seem to perform the same function as brains. This might not be as developed as the human brain or that of larger pets like cats and dogs, but it seems to be enough to ensure their survival.
The ability of the snails to communicate with each other, learn for adaptation, and live out a relatively long lifespan are all indications that they are indeed “smart”, even though this smartness doesn’t equate to performing algorithmic tasks or coming up with new ideas or strategies to look for food. In other words, their level of intelligence is sufficient for their survival. If they weren’t smart, they couldn’t possibly have survived all those years of mass extinctions.