There have been few attempts to synthesise the growing body of literature on phenotypic plasticity to reveal patterns and generalities about the extent and magnitude of plastic responses. Here, we conduct a review and meta-analysis of published literature on phenotypic plasticity in aquatic (marine and freshwater) gastropods, a common system for studying plasticity. We identified 96 studies, using pre-determined search terms, published between 1985 and November 2013. The literature was dominated by studies of predator-induced shell form, snail growth rates and life history parameters of a few model taxa, accounting for 67% of all studies reviewed. Meta-analyses indicated average plastic responses in shell thickness, shell shape, and growth and fecundity of freshwater species was at least three times larger than in marine species. Within marine gastropods, species with planktonic development had similar average plastic responses to species with benthic development. We discuss these findings in the context of the role of costs and limits of phenotypic plasticity and environmental heterogeneity as important constraints on the evolution of plasticity. We also consider potential publication biases and discuss areas for future research, indicating well-studied areas and important knowledge gaps.Heredity advance online publication, 29 July 2015; doi:10.1038/hdy.2015.58.