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Do Snails Sleep? New Evidence Says Yes

Do Snails Sleep? New Evidence Says Yes

By Bryan Nelson, MNN

They might be among the slowest and most laid-back of creatures, but even snails need to nap on occasion, reports

New research out of the University of Toronto has revealed the first evidence that simple organisms like gastropods need to sleep too discovery that only deepens the mysteries behind why animals need to sleep at all.

The study began after researchers Richard Stephenson and Dr. Vern Lewis from the University of Toronto noticed that pond snails were spending about 10 percent of the time attached to the side of their tank with their tentacles partly withdrawn, their shells hanging away from their bodies, and with their feet symmetrical and relaxed.

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To determine if the snails were sleeping rather than simply resting, the researchers observed how quickly they responded to applied stimuli such as being tapped on the shell, being prodded by a metal rod or being introduced to food. Sure enough, active snails responded twice as quickly to physical stimulation and seven times faster to appetite simulation than the snails that appeared to be resting.

Eight of the snails were monitored for a full 79 days so that researchers could look for patterns in their sleeping habits. Perhaps unsurprisingly, gastropods have much different sleeping patterns than people do. For instance, snails follow a two to three day sleeping period rather than a 24-hour cycle, with clusters of around seven bouts of sleeping over a 13-15 hour period followed by over 30 hours of uninterrupted activity. They also don’t appear to need to make up for lost sleep.

Though the reasons behind sleep are still largely mysterious, many experts acknowledge that sleep is important for neurological health, particularly when it comes to organizing and processing memory. The fact that organisms with simpler nervous systems require sleep demonstrates that sleep may play a far more primordial role in biological processes than originally anticipated.

In fact, snails aren’t the only simple animals that sleep. Animals like fruit flies, crayfish and even nematode worms have been shown to fall asleep, too.

Does this research mean that snails also dream? Though there’s no evidence of that yet, it certainly makes one wonder about what a snail might dream about. Tasty sucrose? Sexy snail shell curves? Do their nightmares involve being covered in salt?

For now, questions like these will have to wait.

More from MNN:
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11 intriguing transparent animals
7 famous albino animals

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1:25AM PST on Feb 23, 2014

Thanks for sharing.

8:13AM PST on Mar 2, 2013

very interesting, thank you

3:51AM PDT on Sep 20, 2012

Ouf I should have published my observations on my african snails. They love to have a nap after having lunch. :-)

12:23AM PDT on Oct 28, 2011

Very interesting!

9:17AM PST on Mar 2, 2011

very interesting

1:27AM PST on Feb 27, 2011

Sweet dreams, sweet snail!

12:48AM PST on Feb 27, 2011

"...discovery that only deepens the mysteries behind why animals need to sleep at all."

Is this a joke? Of course every living creature needs sleep at some point. Is there really such a mystery behind it? Is this where our tax dollars are going??

9:06AM PST on Feb 25, 2011

Dear little molluscs, snoring gently, with their little tummies full of my lettuces.Ah!

8:06AM PST on Feb 25, 2011

Everything that lives has to charge its batteries somehow...I know my fish sleep & that my plants can hybernate for defense.

7:24AM PST on Feb 25, 2011

I never thought that there was an animal that didn't sleep, I can't see how (even a snail) would live without some form of rest

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