Golden snail floating… But still alive!?

By Nadine Oraby | 2020 Update

As soon as I added fish in my newly bought tank, I also added those little creatures that complete my fish tank- the Golden snails. Initially, I just bought two of them and they were more than happy in my tank. They’d munch on algae and move actively all over. But after a few days, one of them started floating at the top of the tank. The sight was fretful as the snail seemed dead. But to my surprise, it was retracting and that showed he was alive.

I was very curious to know as to what has happened to that Golden snail. Floating at the top of the tank and eating nothing at all! I contacted the vet and did my own research as well and here’s what I found:

If you find your golden snail floating at the top of the tank then in most of the cases there is no need to worry. The snail isn’t dead if it’s floating but retracting. There are many reasons why snails start floating on the water; some air trapped in the shell, poor water quality, snail munching on the foamy layer at the surface of the tank, etc. In case your snail is smelling bad and its body is loose then it might be dead.

Let’s dig deeper into the reasons your golden snail is floating in the tank but is still alive.

Why do snails float in the tank?

Why do snails float in the tank?

Your aquatic friends, snails, like to be active for some days while on other days, they prefer to chill and remain still.

But when you see your golden snail floating in the tank, there might be some particular reasons. You have to look closely to make sure they aren’t sick. That is why it’s very important to know the reason your snail is preferring to float rather than sink in.

Trapped air

The most common reason your snail might be floating is a little air trapped between the shell and the body. This air gets caught while the snail is moving around the tank. The air bubbles in the tank can get trapped and transform your snail into a tiny balloon.

The snail then no longer sinks into the water and starts floating on the surface. To free the snail from this air, you have to hold it gently and move it up and down. You can also swirl it a bit. Remember, don’t be harsh on your snail as it might get hurt.

If you succeed then the snail will sink in the water and be active again. But if it still floats then maybe there is some other reason it is floating on the surface.

Foamy surface

Sometimes the harmless bacteria in your fish tank collect on the surface along with plant protein and food residue. This results in the formation of a thin, foamy film.

This film isn’t harmful. The snail floats on the surface and starts munching on that film. You can literally see the snail opening and closing its mouth while eating the film away.

If your snail is floating upside down and eating that film then it’s totally normal and you don’t have to worry. If you want to dissipate the foam then add one or two air stones or speed up your filter power.

High power filter

It might be possible that the pressure of the filter forced your snail to float on the surface. In this case, the snail can lose its balance and coordination.

This needs to be fixed as soon as possible because the pressure generated by the filter can make your snail really sick.

If you find that the filter is on high power and the golden snail is floating on the surface then quickly switch the filter to low power. This will release the pressure and the snail might get active again. But if the snail doesn’t respond, then possibly, it’s really sick.

Incomplete nitrogen cycle

When you set up your aquarium, it takes good 2 to 6 weeks to complete the nitrogen cycle. Before that, if you introduce fish and snails in the tank then they can’t survive due to high levels of nitrates, nitrites, and ammonia.

Wondering what’s the nitrogen cycle? Well, it’s a cycle that eliminates nitrates, nitrites, and ammonia naturally. In your aquarium, good bacteria grow after a few days. These good bacteria help to recycle the waste material to convert it into harmless products.

If you add your golden snail before completing the cycle then the snail can’t survive normally due to high levels of toxins in the water. As a result, they start floating on the surface.

To eradicate this issue, keep a check on nitrate and ammonia levels. You can do a water test for this. There should be zero ammonia and nitrates in the water. Only then the water is considered safe for fish, snails, and other aquatic creatures.

Poor water quality

Snails can’t live in unclean water. They will prefer to move out of the tank if the water is not of good quality.

You may also observe that the snail is trying to jump out of the tank. If your snail is not only floating but trying to get out of the tank then it’s time to clean your fish tank thoroughly.

Also, change 20% of the water daily and see how your snail is reacting. Clean water is essential for the survival of your water pets, be it snails or your fish.

You also have to keep the tank water warm. So, Set the temperature right and remove all the debris on a daily basis.

All the reasons discussed above can make your golden snail float in the tank. But that doesn’t mean that the snail is dead. Your snail is still alive but it can float for days. You have to keep an eye on its health, provide food for them, and clean the tank. That’s all they need to survive.

How to test your floating snail is healthy or not?

Now that you know things that can make your snail float, you must also observe closely whether your snail is healthy or not. But how? Let’s see.

  • Tap your snail’s shell gently and see if it retracts. If it retracts and puts its head inside the shell then it’s totally fine. But if the body remains loose and there is no retraction then it’s time to call the vet.
  • Take your golden snail out on a paper towel and see how it reacts. If it hides inside the shell and shows some movement then your little buddy is all fine.
  • Throw algae scrap in the tank and see whether your snail eats it or not. Observe whether it munches on food particles. If it does eat food then the snail is healthy.
  • If you see the body of the snail is loose and it isn’t retracting while floating then it might be really sick.
  • Smell your snail. If it smells bad then, unfortunately, it’s dead. A dead snail stars producing bad smell after 12 hours.

In case you are still not sure then you can call an expert to see whether your floating golden snail is alright or not.

Click here to know when your mystery snail is dead.

What to do to make your snail active again?

If this floating activity is making you anxious, you can make efforts to allow your snail to sink again.

For this purpose, you can try tapping, cleaning the water, providing food, and releasing trapped air (if any).

If your snail is floating but is still alive, retracting its body then there is no need to worry. These creatures chill for some days and then become energetic and all adventurous.

The Bottom line

If you are surprised that your golden snail is floating in the tank but still alive then stop and read the above talk. It’s quite normal for snails to remain inactive and float on the surface of the water even when they are healthy.

But if the water condition is poor or some air is trapped inside the snail then you have to help it to remain healthy. Your snail can get sick due to toxins in the water and it starts floating. Also, if the filter is on high power then the snail might have lost its coordination and balance. So, even if your golden snail is floating, it’s still alive and needs to be observed closely whether it’s healthy or not, just in case.


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