Freshwater Snails

Introduction


A harmless bladder (or pond) snail
Isn't he cute?
One of the more misunderstood subjects in the Aquarium hobby is snails. Some see them as pests which carry diseases and proliferate uncontrollably. Others see them as an integral part of a "complete" ecosystem in their tanks. Whatever your opinion is of these little animals, they can definitely serve a purpose and it would useful to understand them.

Evil or Good?

So the debate goes on, whether snails are good or bad for a tank. The snails that seem to "pop up" in your tank unannounced are mostly harmless to fish and plants. It's the big ones that you buy (apple snails, or mystery snails are one example) which have a tendency to munch on your live plants. Snails mainly eat detritus (fish wastes), dying vegetation, and algae.

Some problems people have with snails are mostly unfounded. They claim that snails are carriers of diseases and parasites that will affect your fish. The truth is that this is only the case with open ponds, where snails may act as intermediary hosts to certain parasites that come from birds feces. Unless you have some birds flying around your fish room you probably need not worry about that. Another claim is that snails will eat all your plants. Only the larger snail species do this, mostly what people see are their little snails eating leaves which are nearly dead. These are leaves that they would have to pluck out of the tank in a week anyway, so the snails are doing them a service! They also eat algae and uneaten fish food, so what are we all complaining about??


Most small snails are harmless to fish and plants. In fact, they can serve a purpose.

The fact that snails eat all these unwanted substances in the tank should make them a valuable organism to the fishkeeper. They're basically taking algae and other organic material and producing it into snail poop, which is easily filtered out or siphoned out with a gravel vacuum. They're handing you unwanted algae and uneaten fish food, all wrapped up in a nice poopy package!

Another thing that snails are good for is helping you monitor the waste buildup in your tanks. If you suddenly have a population explosion of snails, that means there is an abundance of organic waste for them to feed on. This is a clue that the tank needs more vigorous cleaning and a lighter feeding regiment for the fish. If the Malaysian Trumpet Snail is seen staying away from the substrate (where it commonly burrows into during the day), there's a chance that all the waste in your gravel has turned sour and poisonous. Time for a gravel vacuuming!

Different Types of Snails (click image for larger view)

Pond/Bladder Snails
Ramshorn Snails
No pic yet Malaysian Trumpet Snails
No pic yet Apple Snails
No pic yet Mystery Snails

How to Get Rid of Snails

Since snails do serve a useful purpose, I hesitate to tell anyone to remove them. If there is a population explosion, then it would most likely be better to have them removed and just keep a few around to maintain the benefits snails give us. Of course the preventative measures must be taken to make sure you don't get another huge batch of snails.


Good prevention is getting
rid of these egg masses.
There are chemicals out there to help get rid of snails. I would stay away from these products as they sometimes do more harm than good. Any medications with copper in them (to fight against parasites) will also kill off snails. Some fish are sensitive to copper medications and they shouldn't be used in such tanks. But the main problem with using medications is the global effect they have on the tank. By the time people resort to chemicals they usually have hundreds of snails in their tank. Using a medication to kill these snails will work, but then there are all these dead snails in the tank and that will pollute the water something fierce!


Chemical methods for killing snails may cause a massive die-off, which can quickly pollute your water.

My favorite natural methods are listed below. Let it be known that it is extremely difficult to rid the tank of all the snails (without a total breakdown and vigorous cleaning... definitely more trouble than its worth.) Since prevention is the best medicine, keeping the snail population from growing is much easier than having to remove them constantly from your tank.

How to Keep Snails


Bladder snails being friendly
with each other...
What is this? Someone telling you how to keep snails? Who would want to keep them? Hopefully after reading the information above you aren't as anti-snail as you were before. Keeping snails is fairly easy, it's mostly letting them do their "snail thing" in peace.

Keeping the larger snails such as Apple snails means keeping them fed with greens such as a spinach leaf once a week or so. The little snails usually have enough to eat from the algae in the tank itself. If you have a low-light situation and don't grow live plants then putting in a small piece of zucchini or spinach will also allow the smaller snails to snack on some greens which they love.

The main trick to keeping snails alive is to not eradicate them through chemical means. Sometimes this is done unknowingly. Most anti-parasite medications will harm snails. Keep products containing copper away from the tank (or remove the snails before using them.) Other than this, snails are fairly hardy and thrive in a varying degree of water conditions.

Conclusion

I hope this article allowed you to see the various benefits that snails give us fishkeepers and that they aren't as bad as some people say. As with most animals, they just do what they do, it's not their fault! As custodians of the fishtank we must make sure that things don't get out of hand with snails and that they will be kept in check.