Snail is a common name for almost all members of the molluscan class Gastropoda that have coiled shells in the adult stage. When the word is used in a general sense, it includes sea snails, land snails and freshwater snails. Otherwise snail-like creatures that lack a shell (or have only a very small one) are called slugs.
One species of land snail, the Giant African Snail, can grow to be 15 inches (38 cm) from snout to tail, and weigh 1 kilogram (2 lb). The largest living species of sea snail is Syrinx aruanus which has a shell that can measure up to 90 cm (35 in) in length, and the whole animal with the shell can weigh up to 18 kg (40 lb).
Snails can be found in a very wide range of environments including ditches, deserts, and the abyssal depths of the sea. Although many people are familiar with terrestrial snails, land snails are in the minority. Marine snails constitute the majority of snail species, and have much greater diversity and a greater biomass. Numerous kinds of snail can also be found in fresh waters. Many snails are herbivorous, though a few land species and many marine species are omnivores or predatory carnivores.
Snails that respire using a lung belong to the group Pulmonata, while those with gills form a paraphyletic group; in other words, snails with gills are divided into a number of taxonomic groups that are not very closely related. Snails with lungs and with gills have diversified widely enough over geological time that a few species with gills can be found on land, numerous species with a lung can be found in freshwater, and a few species with a lung can be found in the sea.
Most snails have thousands of microscopic tooth-like structures located on a ribbon-like tongue called a radula. The radula works like a file, ripping the food into small pieces.
Types of snails by habitat
Gastropod species which lack a conspicuous shell are commonly called slugs rather than snails, although, other than having a reduced shell or no shell at all, there are really no appreciable differences between a slug and a snail except in habitat and behavior. A shell-less animal is much more maneuverable and compressible, and thus even quite large land slugs can take advantage of habitats or retreats with very little space, squeezing themselves into places that would be inaccessible to a similar-sized snail, such as under loose bark on trees or under stone slabs, logs or wooden boards lying on the ground.
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