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Keeping Aquarium Snails

Updated on September 30, 2014

Snails are nearly ubiquitous in freshwater aquaria. Aquarists vary in their attitude towards snails - many see them as a scourge that must be controlled, if not eliminated outright. Bulletin boards are full of questions about how to control snail populations. Snails are easily introduced on plants, rocks or other decorative items like driftwood. Most reproduce quickly and some, like Malaysian Trumpet Snails, quickly grow to the level of infestation. Some snails eat plants, and can damage aquarium plants. Some will eat eggs, even baby fish. And some play a role in the life cycle of fish pathogens.

Many aquarists seem snails in a more positive light. Snails consume algae and can keep glass and rocks clean. Snails consume dead plant parts and uneaten food that might otherwise decompose and foul the water. Trumpet snails burrow through the substrate and bring oxygen into these substrates.

Quite apart from this utilitarian view of snails, some aquarists see them as desirable pets, and may dedicate aquaria to certain species. Popular pets include Olive Nerita snails, Ramshorn snails and Apple snails (also known as Mystery snails).

Olive Nerita snails

Olive Nerita snails are small omnivorous snails which are native to the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and southern Florida. As suggested by their name, they are brown, green or olive-black in colour. They are good at consuming algae and uneaten food, and do well in small aquaria. Their larvae require brackish water - this means that they will not breed in aquaria. This is a plus for many fish keepers, since they fear plagues of snails.

Ramshorn snails

The name ‘Ramshorn snail’ is applied to just about any snail that has a tightly spiral-coiled shell like a ram’s horn. Some Ramshorn snails carry parasitic flukes which can infect fish and humans and should be quarantined for at least 30 days before they are introduced into your tank.

Unidentified ramshorn snail. Copyright Alan R. Walker, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Unidentified ramshorn snail. Copyright Alan R. Walker, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. | Source

Apple or Mystery snails

Apple or Mystery snails are the largest snails commonly kept in aquaria. They are often offered for sale in pet stores, where brightly coloured or albino varieties are available. Apple snails are large and can tolerate more boisterous or aggressive tank mates. They are not, however, good choices for planted aquaria because they will readily eat live plants. The South American or Channeled Apple snail, Pomacea canaliculata is a serious pest in some parts of the world, including the southern United States and Vietnam.

For this and other reasons, snails should never be released into bodies of water. Excess snails should be killed and disposed of in properly.

Pomacea diffusa, the spike-topped apple snail. Copyright Stijn Ghesquiere,  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Pomacea diffusa, the spike-topped apple snail. Copyright Stijn Ghesquiere, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. | Source

Assassin snails

Assassin snails (Clea helena) are attractive brown and yellow striped snails that are popular with some aquarists because they are predators that feed on other snails. They are sometimes promoted as a way to control snail populations, but given that it takes a large population of assassin snails to really get a snail population under control, they are at best a management tool.

Get them for their own sake, as attractive pets. If you need to control your snail population, there are other more effective methods.

Controlling snail populations

One of the most common questions people have about aquarium snails is how to control a booming snail population. There are a lot of tools available, including snail traps and snail-eating fish. In the end though, snail management is about managing the amount of food available to the snails. If your snail population is exploding, consider the possibility that you might be overfeeding your fish. Cut back on the amount of food you add to your tank and work on cleaning your gravel. Other tools for controlling snail populations include killing them (many fish are happy to munch on crushed snails) and removing and destroying their egg masses.

In the end, it's about available energy. If there's excess food, your snail population will grow. If there's insufficient food, it won't.

References

Howe, Jeff. Invert Your Tank. Freshwater and Marine Aquarium, March 2008.

Comments

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    • profile image

      Inkie 

      7 years ago

      http://ramshorns.webs.com/

      Like your info a lot! I'm planning on adding your page as a suggested link to my site!

    • GoldenThread profile image

      GoldenThread 

      10 years ago from England

      Good tips, thanks... but you haven't quite convinced me to have snails in my aquarium. :)

    • I Ramjohn profile imageAUTHOR

      I Ramjohn 

      10 years ago

      Thanks - I appreciate your comment.

    • Jungle Talk profile image

      Jungle Talk 

      10 years ago

      Hey Ramjohn, what a great hub! I have heard lots of snail stories. It's great to read your introduction sharing the different schools of thought when it comes to snails, it's so right on!

    • I Ramjohn profile imageAUTHOR

      I Ramjohn 

      10 years ago

      Thanks

    • Bug Mee profile image

      Bug Mee 

      10 years ago from Great Midwest

      Good info!

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