Nature is truly amazing. Even the smallest garden can be home to dozens of different species, all working in harmony to eat, sleep, and procreate. At first glance, it may seem like many of these creatures are the same thing, perhaps even prompting one to wonder if snails are bugs.
Despite their otherworldly appearance, snails are not bugs. In the scientific community, they’re classified entirely different from bugs because both do not share many critical traits, including their physical characteristics. Here, bug and snail lovers alike can learn more.
Snails Are Mollusks, Not Bugs
Every living thing is classified into categories based on its shared characteristics and evolutionary traits. This process is known as taxonomy, and it’s been around since the 1770s. In simple terms, snails and bugs are in different categories. They share few common traits, and they don’t have similar evolutionary origins.
In slightly more complex terms, bugs are classified as arthropods, and snails are mollusks. Here are the main things to know about both:
Mollusks Have Unsegmented Bodies
As noted, snails are mollusks, classified in the same family as squid, octopus, and clams. Within the mollusk family, there are four main groups: gastropods, bivalves, chitons, and cephalopods. Snails fall into the gastropod classification, meaning they’re characterized by a soft, unsegmented body and a hard shell.
But what does this mean? Picture a slug. Its body is a singular “foot,” symmetrical on both sides. The same cannot be said for bugs; by design, they are segmented, with each part of its body having a specialized purpose.
Arthropods Have a Chitin Exterior
As noted, bugs are arthropods. That category comprises four classes: arachnids, crustaceans, insects, and millipedes. They are characterized by having an exoskeleton, segmented bodies, and jointed appendages.
Arthropods Molt; Mollusks Don’t
For the sake of explanation, imagine a garden-variety snail and a cricket. A snail’s shell gets bigger because of its mantle, an organ that secretes the calcium carbonate needed to grow. The snail’s foot (its slimy body) will grow with the shell as it ages.
Bugs do not undergo a similar process, and unlike gastropods, they do not have a mantle. Imagine the cricket again. Throughout its lifetime, it’ll grow too big for its exoskeleton and molt, shedding its chitin.
Mollusks Rely Heavily on Water
Mollusks need some amount of water to survive. Even the giant African land snail needs some level of humidity to survive. The same cannot be said for bugs. While bugs get water from their food, they can survive much longer and in more arid conditions than most mollusks.
Above is a critical reason why bugs and snails are not the same. They could be in a similar classification if they grew similarly, but that’s not the world we live in.
Both Animals Have Different Physical Features
The confusion over whether snails are bugs may come from their shells. After all, a snail has a shell; a bug has a hard exterior. Same thing, right? Not exactly.
Per the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, a bug’s exoskeleton is made of chitin, a hard fibrous shell. It’s made from a series of proteins. Sometimes, interactions between bacteria and fungi play a role in how chitin develops.
Different substances make up a snail’s shell. Instead of proteins, it’s made of calcium carbonate, a chemical compound of calcium and protein. A snail’s shell is made of the same material found in rocks, seashells, and even some vegetables.
Snails and Bugs Have Many Similarities
Even though snails are not bugs (and bugs are not snails), the two inhabit similar areas and share many commonalities. They include:
- Having open circulatory systems. Unlike humans, bugs and snails don’t have veins that cycle blood throughout the body. Instead, they have different systems where blood is pumped into an organ called the “hemocoel.” It’s worth noting that snails’ and bugs’ blood is entirely different than humans’ because it contains less oxygen.
- Similar eating habits. Bugs and snails are both heterotrophic, meaning they cannot make their own food. So, they consume other living things, from flesh to plant matter. Bugs feed using specialized mouthparts, while snails feed using a radula, a mouth-like organ with rows of teeth.
- Basic nervous systems. Bugs and snails don’t have a wide range of emotions or cognitive processing. Their nervous systems allow for day-to-day functions, and that’s about it.
- Both lay eggs. Most mollusks and bugs do not give live birth like mammals. Both lay eggs, usually in or near a water source. However, the eggs themselves are very different. Mollusks lay capsule-like eggs submerged in water, while bugs lay eggs near food sources.
Frequently Asked Questions About Snails and Bugs
Snails and bugs are fascinating in their own way. Commonly asked questions about these creepy crawlies include:
Can Snails and Bugs Be Friends?
Snails and bugs do not have the same social relationships and hierarchies that humans do. However, they share many of the same habitats, where both species live in harmony. Most bugs don’t have snails as the first thing on the menu, and snails are generally too slow to catch bugs.
Do Snails Live Alone?
Unlike many bugs that live in organized colonies, snails are generally solitary creatures. While they can thrive in terrariums with other snails, they likely congregate because there’s a common food source, not out of a need to socialize. This, of course, doesn’t apply to marine snails, which sometimes create colonies to ward off predators.
Who Would Win, a Bug or a Snail?
This is a difficult question without knowing the exact bug or snail type. Snails rely on their hard shells to protect themselves from attacks, while some species of bugs are killing machines, plain and simple.
In the grand game of survival, bugs and snails are winners. They’ve remained on Planet Earth for millions of years, adapting to harsh conditions, food scarcity, and other challenges. While they’re not the same thing, they’ve found their niches around the globe.