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.

In addition to the farming of edible snails, they also impact agriculture as a pest. Snails and slugs destroy crops by eating roots, leaves, stems and fruits. They are able to abrade and consume a large variety of plants with the abrasive radula. Metaldehyde-containing baits are frequently used for snail control, though they should be used with caution as they are toxic to dogs and cats.