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Can snails hear?

Snails are often thought of as almost deaf creatures, slowly crawling along blissfully unaware of the sounds around them. But can snails actually hear? The answer is more complex than you might think.

The Snail’s Sensory Organs

Snails do not have ears like humans or many other animals. However, they do have sensory organs that allow them to detect vibrations, changes in pressure, and some sound waves. Here are the main sensory organs of a snail:

  • Tentacles – The two tentacles on a snail’s head contain sensory organs called ommatophores. These can detect chemical cues in the environment, as well as some vibration and movement.
  • Eyes – Snails have two sets of eyes – the larger, lower eyes can sense light and dark, while the smaller, upper eyes can detect movement.
  • Osphradium – This sensory organ behind the snail’s head can detect chemical stimuli in water. It is thought to help with sensing predators.
  • Body – A snail’s body can sense vibrations through sensory cells in their skin and shell. Their soft bodies amplify vibrational signals.

While snails do not have ears, their combination of sensory organs does allow them to detect some sounds and vibrations in their environment.

Evidence That Snails Detect Sound

Research suggests that snails do respond to some sound stimuli, indicating they can hear sounds at certain frequencies and volumes:

  • Snails retract into their shells in response to loud noises, suggesting they can hear sounds at high volumes.
  • Snails have been shown to detect low-frequency vibrations between 50-1000 Hz. They are most sensitive to lower frequencies of 50-150 Hz.
  • In one study, snails retracted their eyestalks in response to tones between 50-450 Hz, indicating they could detect these sounds.
  • Some marine snails produce sounds by rubbing their shell or “foot” on surfaces. This suggests they use sound to communicate with other snails.

While their hearing abilities appear limited, snails do display some behavioral responses indicating they can perceive sounds in their environment.

How Well Can Snails Hear?

Compared to many animals, snails have relatively poor hearing abilities. Here are some limitations of snail hearing:

  • No outer or middle ear – With no ear structure to amplify sounds, snails are limited in what frequencies they detect.
  • Less sensitivity – Snails’ hearing organs are less sensitive compared to the auditory systems of insects and vertebrates.
  • Poor sound localization – Snails are not able to pinpoint the location of sounds with much accuracy.
  • Low frequency detection – Snails are only able to detect lower frequency sounds below 1000 Hz. Many sounds are above this threshold.

Snails do have enough sensory structures to pick up on some loud, low-pitched noises and vibrations. But their hearing pales in comparison to more complex auditory systems.

Hearing Thresholds

Research measuring nerve responses has identified the hearing thresholds of several snail species:

Snail Species Hearing Threshold (dB SPL)
Garden snail (Helix aspersa) 58 dB
Grove snail (Cepaea nemoralis) 63 dB
Marine snail (Littorina littorea) 72 dB

For comparison, normal human hearing can detect sounds as low as 0-20 dB SPL. So snails require louder volumes around 60-70 dB before they can perceive sounds.

How Snails Detect Sound

Without ears or an auditory nerve, how do snails pick up on sounds and vibrations? Here are the ways they likely detect noises:

Sensing Vibrations

Snails sense vibrations through receptor cells spread across their body, tentacles, and eyestalks. These cells contain sensory hairs that pick up on motion in the surrounding environment. Even small vibrations can stimulate these sensory cells.

Shell Resonance

The snail’s hard shell amplifies sounds and causes resonance. When sound waves hit the shell, it vibrates like a microphone diaphragm. This activates sensory cells underneath the shell that detect the motion.

Foot Receptors

On the bottom of their muscular foot, snails have epithelial cells with numerous sensory hairs. TheseFoot receptors likely play a role in sensing underwater vibrations.

Chemical Sensing

While not direct hearing, snails can detect certain loud noises by sensing the chemical changes these sounds produce in the environment. For example, a nearby explosion might release chemicals that snails can detect with their tentacles.

Snail Hearing in Everyday Life

In the wild, snail hearing abilities may help with:

  • Sensing predators – Detecting low-frequency noises from approaching predators could cause the snail to retreat into its shell.
  • Mating calls – Some marine snails make noises to attract mates. Hearing these mating calls is important for reproduction.
  • Navigating – Sensing vibrations moving through plants or rocks may help snails orient themselves.
  • Finding food – Detecting noises made by eating, breathing, or movement could lead snails to food sources.

For pet snails, abilities like sensing loud environmental noises and responding to other snails can improve their quality of life.

Snail Hearing vs. Human Hearing

There are major differences between snail hearing abilities and human hearing:

Snail Hearing Human Hearing
Frequency range 50-1000 Hz 20-20,000 Hz
Hearing threshold 58-72 dB SPL 0-20 dB SPL
Sound localization Poor Excellent
Auditory structures Sensory cells Outer/middle/inner ear

With a smaller detectable frequency range and poorer sensitivity, snail hearing is fairly primitive compared to complex human hearing.

Snail Hearing vs. Other Animals

Snails also have much poorer hearing compared to other animals like:

  • Dogs – Can hear sounds up to 45,000 Hz and detect volumes as low as -5 to -15 dB SPL.
  • Bats – Using echolocation, bats can detect frequencies up to 100,000 Hz and noises as low as 10 dB SPL.
  • Owl – Owls can hear frequencies up to 12,000 Hz with thresholds around -15 dB SPL.
  • Cats – With a range up to 64,000 Hz and thresholds down to -8 dB SPL, cat hearing surpasses snail hearing.

With specialized auditory structures and adaptations, many mammals, birds, and insects have more acute hearing than the humble snail.

Interesting Facts About Snail Hearing

  • Sea snails likely use hearing to detect nearby prey, such as marine worms.
  • Hearing ability may vary between snail species based on environment and predation pressures.
  • Love darts used by some snails in mating may produce sounds to stimulate partners.
  • In lab experiments, snails showed habituation by stopping withdrawal responses after repeated sounds.
  • Land snails have poorer hearing than marine snails, who use underwater sound sensing to navigate.


Snails do not have ears or auditory nerves, but they can detect low-frequency sounds and vibrations using sensory cells and their shell. Their hearing range is limited from around 50-1000 Hz compared to the much larger range in humans. While snails do respond to some loud noises, their hearing is simple and much less sensitive than many other animals. The snail’s sensory systems are enough to detect nearby movement, find mates, and retreat from predators. So while snails may be effectively deaf compared to us, they can still perceive some important sounds in their environment.