Not all snails are hermaphrodites. However the majority of snails are. Snails are able to reproduce differently than almost any other type of creature because they are equipped with both male and female reproductive organs. This is especially consistent among land snails and most marine snails as well. The only snails currently known to not have adapted this attribute yet include some freshwater and marine species such as the Apple snail and the Periwinkle snail. These two types of snails still have separate male and female species.
All snails are considered to be sexually mature by the time they reach the age of one. This is because the life span of many species does not often last for more than 5 to 7 years, allowing for a faster growth rate of the species. This make up of the snail will include their reproductive organs that are located on the side of their body. This is close to the top of their body as well, which allows for easier abilities to mate and for the baby snails to grow.
In biology the term hermaphrodite is used to describe organisms that have reproductive organs associated with both the male and female species. Many taxonomic groups of animals such as invertebrates do not have separate sexes. Therefore, in these groups hermaphroditism is a normal condition and simply a way of life for these creatures. This enables a form of sexual reproduction in which both partners can act as the “male” or the “female”.
The great majority of pulmaonate snails, opisthobranch snails and slugs are hermaphrodites. This hermaphroditic trait is also found in some fish species and to a lesser degree in other vertebrates. Most plants are hermaphrodites as well. Historically speaking, the term hermaphrodite was often used to describe ambiguous genitalia and gonadal mosaicism in individuals of gonochrist species, especially human beings. This word hermaphrodite entered the English lexicon during the 15th century and is derived from the Greek Hermaphroditos, a combination of the names of the gods Hermes (male) and Aphrodite (female).
Self-fertilization is also obviously a common practice among snails. For snails that do mate, since they are hermaphrodites they mate differently than other types of animals. When it comes time for them to mate they begin to produce a mucous covered calcerous beforehand that pierces the skin of their mate. Sometimes this is also referred to in snail terms as a “love dart”. The mucous contains a pheromone that makes the female reproductive canal less hostile to sperm. All hermaphroditic snails are able to lay eggs. They can do this as mentioned above by “mating” with themselves or by reproducing with a mate. Many have been known to breed sexually as often as possible. Snails that are not hermaphrodites can only reproduce sexually and usually give live birth rather than lay eggs.
The population of giant carnivorous hermaphrodite snails is on the rise in places like New Zealand. These carnivores can live up to 20 years of age and also lay eggs that resemble small bird’s eggs. They dwell on damp forest floors and forage for their food at night, mainly preying on earthworms. However they have also been known to eat slugs from time to time using the row of sharp, backward facing teeth that they are equipped with to grab their prey and devour it using digestive enzymes. Because this species of snails are hermaphrodites, any adult snail is able to mate with any other adult snail. This species has been a victim to endangered habitats and natural enemies in older years, but the conservation efforts in areas such as Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand are proving to be quite beneficial in bringing their numbers back up.