Compared to most aquarium fauna, snails are not so well known and are still considered mysterious. Even many people who breed them in their aquariums do not know the exact answers to the questions of what snails eat, what snails walking along the glass eat or how snails reproduce. In fact, freshwater aquarium snails are characterized by a great variety not only in terms of appearance but also in terms of their lifestyle. Obtaining food or breeding in artificial conditions is therefore an individual matter. In this blog, we aim to share our snail care advice.
Freshwater aquarium snails are known mainly due to their proverbial slowness and tendency to eat leftover fish food. In the garden, they are treated as plant pests. It happens that invasive snails also appear in aquariums and are a big problem (they have to be fought in various ways). Most snails – from tropical areas, are algae eaters and play an important role as cleaners in planted tanks. Some of the freshwater snails are predators and can be dangerous to fry or other small creatures (e.g. shrimps or even other snail species such as ramshorn snails).
In general, aquarium snails are treated as nice (they look attractive, they are colourful, and watching them gives a lot of pleasure) and useful (due to nutritional preferences) “addition” to freshwater aquariums.
What do aquarium snails eat?
Aquarium snails, unlike their terrestrial cousins, do not eat live plants (except for invasive species such as great pond snails). Therefore, the opinion that aquatic snails destroy aquarium arrangements is untrue and harmful to their reputation. Most aquarium snails play an important role in the ecosystem in terms of cleanliness. Aquarium snails feed on detritus – decaying, dead or rotting plants (e.g. made of excess food or decaying plant matter), and they do not despise algae. Some snails eat algae (eg nerite snails prefer diatoms). Some snails are scavengers such as the red-rimmed Melania) or apple snails. Other freshwater snails are predatory such as the assassin snails (Clea Helena), which, in freshwater tanks are helpful in preventing the development of their invasive cousins, trumpet snails, pond snails and ramshorn snails.
In the absence of food (such situations rarely occur in a healthy fish tank), they feed on fish food. Shrimp pellets and uneaten fish flakes will readily be eaten by many snails. A firm favourite is algae wafers. Generally, most bottom feeder tablets are a hit with aquatic snails. You can also feed them with raw or blanched vegetables, e.g. carrots, cabbage, and broad beans. Such royal treatment may additionally induce them to breed.
Breeding aquarium snails
Snails are a too diverse group to describe a universal way of breeding or behaviour. Some species are hermaphrodites, meaning one individual is enough to produce offspring. Unfortunately, this often applies to species considered invasive. Usually, a pair of snails are needed for reproduction (e.g. golden apple snails, clea helena and mystery snail). At the same time, due to the fact that the sex is virtually unrecognizable, it is worth buying several snails of the same species (then the chance of getting a male and a female will increase). The methods of reproduction are an individual matter. Snails can lay eggs in water (e.g. by attaching them to stones, or plants) or above the water surface (e.g. on a glass and a cover). The last case concerns, inter alia, golden apple snails. Then, unknowingly, you can destroy the population by adding water. Snails can also develop offspring inside their own bodies. After hatching, the young have a (soft) shell, still use the egg sack shell, and then hide in the substrate even for several months. Sometimes reproduction is very difficult (or even impossible) as the larvae hatch from the eggs and require saltwater and sea plankton. Encouraging snails to reproduce is not easy. However, the owner of the aquarium has some influence on the environmental factors – the optimal water temperature, hiding places, potential places for laying eggs, as well as an abundance of food.
What can limit snail breeding?
Snails, like many other organisms, are genetically determined in such a way as to initiate reproduction if there is a good chance of survival of the offspring. In other words, if there is few predators and plenty food, snails are encouraged and multiply. In this case, the abundance of food is essential and, above all, safety. Therefore, in “aquariums for snails” you should avoid breeding predators like assassin snails (Clea helena is “snail-eating”, and snail-eating fish are for example loaches, gouramis, and the Leporinus group). They show reduced activity (also applies to reproduction) also at cool temperatures. Baby snails may be at risk for many months due to soft and not so healthy shells.
How to fight off a freshwater snail invasion in a planted aquarium.
Aquarists use different methods to fight unwanted snails (usually the pesky pond snail) in their freshwater aquariums. Firstly, the plague is usually caused by overfeeding the fish. An excess of uneaten food is a green light for snails to multiply. Offering an adequate food amount (only enough food to be consumed by your fish within 2-3 minutes, twice a day is enough) can prevent unwanted population growth, along with better water quality. Therefore snails are treated as indicators of our fish diet. Let’s take a look at the different ways of fighting pest snails used by aquarists all over the world.
Many hobbyists simply leave blanched vegetables such as carrot, zucchini and lettuce in the tank overnight in order to encourage snails to settle on it and enjoy some vitamins (joke ;). In the morning, they remove the veg with the unsuspecting snails still on it. This method is not very effective but done over a few nights can help to reduce the snail population. Just monitor the water conditions if leaving veg in the aquarium over several days. This process is wholly reliant on the aquarium snail actually remaining on the surface of the veg.
Lowering the aquarium temperature
This method involves lowering the aquarium temperature to 12-13 degrees Celsius and is rather controversial. Indeed, most tropical snails will perish at an aquarium temperature this low but on the other hand, your freshwater aquarium fish requiring warmer water are endangered. If attempting this method keep in mind that any changes to the temperature of your aquarium water should always be done slowly.
There are plenty of prepared chemical solutions for fighting snails on the market. Ready preparations usually contain Copper sulphate which is lethal to snails. However, be aware that dead snails will decompose and affect the water parameters if not taken out. Additionally, it is important to check if they contain any substances harmful to freshwater fish or live plants.
Freshwater fish that will eat a pest snail.
Clown loaches are considered the best in this job. They suck the snail out of the shell which is a delicacy for them. On daily basis, they feed on various fish food. They are herd fish so it’s good to introduce a few individuals. Otherwise, they may show aggression against other tank mates. Sadly, Clown loaches can grow rather big so this solution is not ideal for a smaller fish tank. Another freshwater fish that enjoys eating snails are freshwater pufferfish. One of our favourite fish that enjoys hunting and eating many snails is the betta fish.
Snails eating other snails
A great method of removing unwanted snails is introducing other snails that can eat them. Assassin snails are the best choice. Even a few assassin snails can fight the whole plague. What should be taken into consideration is the number of predators introduced. What will they eat when the plague is gone? Therefore it’s best to put 2-3 assassin snails in 50-100l of water. Then they won’t eat the whole snail population but will slowly reduce its number. Remember, that if you have any ornamental snails in your tank, putting assassins is not a good idea because they will hunt out others snails slowly. Clea Helena should not be also used in the presence of shrimp. Additionally, assassin snails prefer meaty foods so a little supplemental feeding with chopped up mussel or clam is ok.
This method requires a lot of tank owner’s patience but is the least invasive one. All you need to do is to take tweezers and catch them one by one. It’s good to take tweezers matching the snails’ size to facilitate the process. However, in case of the large plague, try not to fall asleep 😉
A snail trap is simply a disc with bait inside, e.g. a vegetable. The snails are able to come inside but not escape. However, the question arises: how intelligent the snails are to enter the trap?
Freshwater snails are an excellent addition to any freshwater tank. We are all guilty of overfeeding our aquarium which always results in leftover food. Having a natural method of counteracting the leftover food is much better than having to do the work ourselves. If a freshwater aquarium is maintained in balance, there is no reason why we can’t pick up some of those interesting and popular freshwater snails from the local fish store.
Just remember this, too much food could turn that cute little pet snail into other snails and that could mean removing unwanted snails. Not to mention, fish waste can have an effect on water quality.
If you are considering a pet snail, here is a shortlist of some of the snails we think would be good.
Mystery Snails, ivory snails, trumpet snails (great for turning your substrate over), nerite snails, ramshorn snails, Apple snails.