Snails Bite: How They Do It, Why, & What It Feels Like

by | Slugs & Snails, Snails

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If you’ve picked up a snail and felt a pinch or you want to pick up a snail but you’re scared it hurts you, then you’re probably here to find out if snails can bite…

Snails can’t bite or chew on you like a dog, but they can run their toothed tongue over your skin which might feel like a bite. A snail can’t break your skin or draw blood like this, and it isn’t trying to attack you. It just thinks your hand is food and wants to taste it to make sure.

Snails are rather harmless to humans, except for one dangerous snail that needs to be avoided. Understanding how snails bite and how their mouths work can remove a lot of fear when it comes to handling snails.

Where is a snail’s mouth?

Photo of a hand holding a garden snail

A snail’s mouth is on the underside of its body, towards the front, close to its tentacles. If you look closely under a snail’s body, you should be able to see the opening to the mouth.

Do snails have teeth?

All snails have teeth. Snail teeth are tiny and made of chitin, the same material that’s found in a crab’s shell. The teeth are arranged in rows in the mouth on a tongue-like band called a radula. The radula can move around in the snail’s mouth, so a snail can control and move its teeth back and forth.

Depending on the species, snails have between 1 000 and 20 000 teeth in their mouth at a time. A snail grows teeth at the back of its mouth. As the front teeth wear down, the rows of teeth move forward to replace the old teeth. This makes space for more new teeth to grow at the back.

This is how a snail keeps so many teeth healthy and strong.

Photo of rows of snail teeth inside the mouth to make up the radula
A magnified picture of rows of microscopic teeth that form a radula.
Original mage sourced, with thanks, from ©Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

Snails that eat plants have more teeth than snails that eat meat because it takes more teeth to chop up plant material than animal material.

Snails need their teeth to eat food or they will starve: Click here to find out how snails use their teeth to eat food.

Why snails bite

Snails are designed to crawl along and graze on food a lot of the time, especially when preparing to hibernate for a cold winter. As they move along, snails smell food with their lower tentacles and scrape or rasp things with their toothed tongue to taste the food.

Snails have many reasons for biting and rasping like this:

  • Snails bite humans when they are hungry. A snail thinks human flesh might be a vegetable peel or something good that snails like to eat, so it rasps the person’s skin with its tongue as a taste test. This usually happens when the person has touched food or plants before touching the snail, so their hand smells like food to the snail.
  • Snails may also bite people when they lack protein in their diet, and they are trying to get some from the person’s hand.
  • Snails bite plants and other foods to break off small pieces and swallow the food.
  • Snails bite other snails when they are fighting over food.
  • Snails have been known to bite quite aggressively when they are mating.

It’s safe to let a snail crawl on you, even if it does try to bite you. The best way to pick up a snail is to put your hand down in front of the snail and let it crawl onto you.

Do snail bites hurt?

Snail bites don’t hurt – they feel more like a cat’s tongue licking you or a pinch. Even though snails have thousands of tiny teeth, their teeth aren’t big enough or strong enough to injure you. But there is one underwater snail that gives painful, poisonous bites: the cone snail.

Cone snails are usually found in warm seas and oceans, but they also live in the cooler waters of southern California. Most are brightly colored with patterns on their shells, and all are shaped like a cone.

The cone snail has a feeler that sticks out of one end of its shell. This feeler is designed to attract fish that want to eat it.

But when a fish (or a human) touches a cone snail’s feeler, the snail uses a hollow tooth to quickly shoot venom into the fish. This poison paralyses or kills the fish so the cone snail can eat it.

Photo of an underwater cone snail showing the sting where poisonous bites are given
This cone snail is waiting patiently for a fish to touch its feeler sticking out to the right of the shell. When a fish takes the bait, the snail injects venom into the fish using a hollow tooth. This paralyses the fish and the snail eats it.

People who have been stung by a cone snail say it is as painful as being stung by a bee or a yellow jacket (wasp), but there is often a lot of pain in the bite area after and sometimes more serious health issues.

How to get rid of snails in your yard

The following tips and products from Amazon will help you get rid of snails in your yard:

  • First make sure you have snails in your yard. Look for live snails, snail shells, or the shiny, silvery mucus trails snails leave behind on plants, floors, and when they climb up walls.
  • If you have snails in your yard, sprinkle these organic snail killer granules around the area. The granules smell like food to snails, so they come out of their hiding spots to eat the poison. The granules are biodegradable, safe to use around pets, children, and wildlife, and work in all weather.
  • If you have a problem with snails on certain plants or in certain areas, spray the plant or area with this non-toxic snail repellent made with essential oils. It can be used indoors or outdoors, and even around the perimeter of your yard to keep snails out.
  • In the evening, water your garden well and set a beer trap by putting a small plastic bowl in the ground near the plants the snails are eating. Put the bowl deep enough to leave 1 inch above the ground or cover the trap with a loose lid to stop insects from falling in. Fill the bowl halfway with fresh beer. Empty it out and put fresh beer in every night until you no longer find snails in the morning. If you don’t want to make your own beer trap, you can buy beer traps from Amazon.
  • A DIY option is to go out and pick up snails with your hands (I suggest wearing gloves for this). The best time to look for snails is after sunset and rainfall. Throw the snails on the ground and stand on them or crush them with a rock. Or throw them into a bucket of soapy water to drown them.

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MONIQUE

Monique loves gardening and spending time in her backyard, where she grows flowers, succulents, herbs, fruits, and vegetables.

Monique spends a lot of time researching how to protect her backyard from harmful pests and trying to attract beneficial insects and animals.

She shares everything that she learns and tests here at Backyard Pests.

 

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