Snails of Arizona

This map shows where spring snails are found in Arizona. The gaps show where we haven’t gone looking yet!

Snails are an animal that takes me by surprise here in the desert. It seems like it wouldn’t be wet enough here for them to survive. It turns out, snails are adapted and spend a lot of their lives underground where it’s cooler and wetter, only emerging after rain or if living in aquatic environments like springs. Snails are found all over the state of Arizona, but we don’t have good data yet about everywhere they are – so we need volunteers to help look for them! 

You might see land snails out on any hike above 6000 feet elevation in the Sky Islands; they tend to be more common and easier to find up high. Common habitats for land snails include rocky, talus slopes. The talus snails that we have are in the genus Sonorella, named for the Sonoran Desert!   

We have three kinds of aquatic snails—pond snails, “planorbid” snails (named for their shape), and spring snails. Spring snails are no bigger than a sesame seed and are usually found within ten feet of where a spring emerges. Even if the spring is developed with a spring box, snails can still be present. They feed on the slime that grows on rocks, leaves, and twigs, in water that is relatively slow moving. Recent efforts have been made to reintroduce spring snails to spring habitats where they likely used to exist. 

Unfortunately, we also have some invasive snails, including the brown garden snail and the decollate snail. These are concerning because they can bring parasites and diseases that can affect our native snails.  

There are ~80 species of talus snails in Arizona that can be identified by a single brown stripe running around their shells. We also have land snails that thrive in oak woodland habitats, identified by a double brown stripe. Unpublished: Undescribed Sonorella species from Central Arizona (c) 2014 Nick D. Waters.

Other threats to native snails include loss of habitat and sedimentation from overgrazing or wildfires. Luckily, the folks at Arizona Game and Fish are working on conservation agreements with many partners to better protect our native snails.  

If you are out Spring Seeking, be sure to check for land snails on your hikes and spring snails at the spring! You can also join the Land Snails of Arizona project on iNaturalist and submit snail observations. 

For all the information about Snails in Arizona, be sure to catch our Coffee Break from Jeff Sorenson, the “Snail Guy” with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. 

Fun Facts 

  • Scientists who study snails and other mollusks are called “malacologists.” 
  • We have 13 described species of spring snails and 3 that are still being described. 
  • Over the last 6 years, AGFD scientists have located 19 new places where spring snails occur!  


Spring snails are the smallest snails in Arizona.

More Fascinating Arizona Snails