Do Snails Breathe Air? (9 Interesting Facts)

If you’re looking to get a snail as a pet or have one already, you may be wondering how they breathe. Different snails live on land as well as water bodies including rivers, freshwater ponds, and even salty oceans. For the land snails, it might be tempting to think that they breathe the same way mammals do. But even if that’s the case, what about those in the ponds and seas? So, do snails breathe air?

Yes, snails breathe air. Though technically, what they breathe is the oxygen in the air. Land snails and some pond (freshwater) snails have a simple breathing system or “lung” that allows them to get oxygen from the air. Whereas some pond snails absorb oxygen from water using their gills. In addition, some snails have both gills and a lung; such groups are said to be amphibious.

In this article, we will look at the respiratory process in snails, what they breathe in and out, and the various organs they use to carry out this function. 

Do Snails Breathe Air

How Do Snails Breathe?

There are different species of snails and they all breathe differently. Some breath through the lung in their mantle while some have gills that enable them to breathe in water. Generally, we can classify all snails into three categories based on their breathing pattern.


This group is largely made up of sea or marine snails, most of which have two gills while a few also possess a lung that can be used to breathe air. 

Those snail species with gills usually have them in front of the heart. Some of these include cowries, cones, whelks, conches, volutes, and periwinkles. As you can see, these are all marine snails. A distinct characteristic of these snails is that they derive oxygen from water by breathing through their gills. In other words, they don’t need to come to the surface of the water to breathe in oxygen or air. 

On the other hand, snails with both gills and lungs in this category include some freshwater and land snail species. They have a gill on one side and a lung on the other side, which allows them to breathe both in water and on land. 

Prosobranchs, generally, have distinct sexes or genders.


Pulmonates use a lung for breathing and are mostly made up of land snails. The snails here used to have gills but evolved over time, and lost the gills. They are a bit more complex than other snails. 

Even though the majority of pulmonates are terrestrial, there are still many freshwater snails in this category. These snails live in water but have a lung for respiration. They regularly come up to the surface of the water to take in oxygen. The oxygen goes through the pneumostome on the side of the mantle to the pallial lungs from where it’s distributed to other parts of the body. 

It’s worth mentioning that there are some types of land snails that have gills but these species are rare and need to stay in humid areas for survival.

Generally, the respiratory function of pulmonates answers the question of how do snails breathe on land. 

Do Snails Breathe Air?

Yes, snails breathe air. These snails are often called pulmonates and have a lung through which they breathe air. It’s actually the oxygen in the air snails need to survive. So, a more accurate response would be that snails breathe oxygen. 

While pulmonates mostly breathe air, some aquatic snails breathe water using their gills. In both cases, the snails obtain oxygen. So, while different types of snails breathe differently using either gills or a lung, they all breathe oxygen and release carbon dioxide.

Why Snails Need Air

Snails need air to stay alive. This means that if you keep a snail in a place that is not properly ventilated, it will die. Most land snails cannot go for more than a day or two without air. They may last longer without water. This is also relatable to humans. It’s possible to go a day without drinking water but it’s not so with oxygen.

Besides the need to breathe, snails also need air when they aestivate. During aestivation, they can go for long periods without water but not without oxygen. However, water is still needed, which is why most snails will go underground to keep their body moist and stay hydrated. 

Can Snails Live Without Air?

Yes, some aquatic snails can live without air. Even though all snails need oxygen, they do not always get it from the same source. While most terrestrial snails get oxygen from the air, some aquatic snails get it from water. 

In other words, while most land snails cannot live without air (because that’s where they derive oxygen), some aquatic snails don’t need it. These aquatic snails typically have well-developed gills they use to breathe. 

This also answers the question – do snails breathe air or water? Snails can breathe air or water depending on where you find them. Most terrestrial snails breathe air while most aquatic snails breathe water. In reality, the snails breathe oxygen in the air or water. This means air and water are merely carriers. 

Other Related Questions

Do snails breathe oxygen?

Yes, snails breathe oxygen. This is essential for their survival. Oxygen is used by the snail the same way it’s used by humans and other animals – to breathe and convert food to energy. It’s also used for growth and reproduction. Snails can either get oxygen from air or water depending on their habitat. 

Do snails breathe out carbon dioxide?

Yes, snails breathe out carbon dioxide just like humans. Oxygen is assimilated and distributed to various parts of the body while carbon dioxide is expelled. How oxygen is absorbed is different for each type of snail. Some nails breathe through a lung (cavity), some breath through gills, while some have a lung and a gill. 

Do snails breathe under water?

The majority of aquatic snails breathe underwater. These snails typically have developed gills that enable them to breathe underwater by absorbing oxygen from water. 

Do snails breathe through their feet?

No snails don’t breathe through their “feet”. In fact, snails have a single foot, or more specifically, a muscular ventral foot which they use to glide or move forward along a trail of slime. 

Do snails breathe through their skin?

Yes, snails have a permeable skin through which they absorb oxygen. From there the oxygen is passed to the pallial cavity or lung, and then to various parts of the snail’s body. Most snails that breathe this way also lose water through their skin. 

Summary: Do Snails Breathe Air?

To conclude, most terrestrial snails breathe air while most aquatic snails breathe water. Ultimately, it’s the oxygen in the air or water the snail needs to survive. In other words, all snails breathe oxygen which could come from air or water. 

Generally, snails inhabiting warmer water require more oxygen than those in colder water. Besides oxygen, snails so need water, food, and sufficient humidity and temperature to stay alive. 


Similar Posts