5 Easy Ways to Get Rid of Aquarium Pest Snails
Bladder, ramshorn, and Malaysian trumpet snails are often called pest snails in the aquarium hobby because they reproduce very quickly and are difficult to remove once introduced to a fish tank. They can enter your fish tank by hitchhiking on live aquatic plants or even at the bottom of a fish bag from the pet store.
Are pest snails bad for my fish tank? Despite having the nickname of “pest snails,” they are actually quite useful in aquariums and are a natural part of the aquatic ecosystem. They eat algae, clean up uneaten fish food, break down fish waste, and help feed the snail eaters in your fish tank. These snails will not harm your live fish or plants, but they do keep your aquarium clean by consuming any dead animals or sickly leaves.
Even though they are known as “pest snails,” ramshorn snails are often kept by fish keepers for their cleaning abilities and beautiful color variations.
Despite these many benefits, some people do not like being overrun by so many snails that they start covering the glass and every surface in the fish tank. To keep your aquarium snail population under control, try one of these 5 proven methods.
Method #1: Less Food
Fish keeping veterans know that the easiest way to lessen the number of snails is to feed less fish food. Despite their rapid reproduction cycle, snails can only create new babies if they have enough sustenance. Therefore, only feed enough food that can be completely consumed by your fish within a few minutes. Smaller meals also means that your fish create less waste for the snails to snack on. Also, higher quality foods like live, frozen, and freeze-dried foods are more likely to be completely eaten by the fish, leaving very few remnants for the snails.
This bladder snail is a hermaphrodite that can reproduce asexually and lay viable eggs, even if there are no other snails in the aquarium.
Not only do snails feed off leftover food, but they also eat algae and dying plant matter. Make sure to regularly prune your plants and scrub off algae whenever you clean the fish tank. Also, use an aquarium siphon to gravel vacuum the substrate and remove excess mulm or organic debris that the snails can use as food sources.
Method #2: Manual Removal
Slowly starving the snails can take a while, so speed up the process by physically removing snails whenever you get a chance. The simplest technique is to just use your hands and pick them out one by one. If the snails are small enough, some people use a length of siphon hose to suck them up into a bucket during water changes. If you’re passing by and spot some snails on the aquarium walls, try using a snail catcher to easily scoop them up without getting your hands wet.
The Dennerle Snail Catcher is a nifty tool for scraping off and catching small snails on fish tank walls.
Method #3: Snail Trap
Some species like Malaysian trumpet snails are nocturnal and like to burrow in the substrate, so it can be harder to collect them from the tank. In those cases, attract the snails by using some delicious vegetables as bait. Drop a piece of cucumber, zucchini, carrot, or lettuce into the aquarium overnight, and by the next morning, the vegetable should be covered in snails for you to remove. Some hobbyists like to put the food in a DIY snail trap (e.g., a container with holes in the lid that are big enough for the snails to enter but too small for fish to pass) so that the snails cannot easily leave even after they get full.
Malaysian trumpet snails (also known as MTS) are very resilient and have been known to survive in dry, used gravel for many months.
How do you humanely kill a snail after you catch them? Feed your extra snails to snail-eating fish (see our list below), give them to other hobbyists who own snail eaters, or crush them for a quick death.
Method #4: Snail Eaters
Pest snails are actually in high demand if you own a snail-eating fish because they provide a lot of essential nutrients and enrichment for the animal to display its natural hunting behavior. Almost all freshwater pufferfish – from the tiny pea puffer to the massive Mbu puffer – love to eat snails, and the crunchiness of the snail shells can help grind down puffer teeth and prevent them from getting too long. Many loaches – such as clown, zebra, yoyo, and dwarf chain loaches – can use their pointy snouts to poke into snail shells and slurp out the insides. Certain larger animals like oscars and turtles also enjoy a good meal of mollusks, so don’t forget to save some for them. Finally, some aquarists employ the services of the assassin snail – a 1-inch (2.5 cm), carnivorous snail that specifically targets other snails as its primary diet.
Assassin snails (Anentome helena) ambush and eat other snails, even those that are much larger in size.
Method #5: Quarantine
If you are determined to ban pet snails from your home, remember the saying “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” Carefully inspect any new plants, and manually remove all snails and snail eggs. Some people run their plants under running water to help wash away any unseen hitchhikers. Then place the plant in a quarantine tank with light and fertilizers, and continuously remove any snails that appear. Snail eggs can take 1-4 weeks to hatch, depending on the species and water temperature, so this process requires some patience.
While this quarantine plan is not bulletproof, we recommend taking a slow and steady approach rather than using chemical treatments like bleach or aquarium salt. It can be difficult to find an exact dosing concentration that is strong enough to kill snails and snail eggs but won’t harm more sensitive plants like vallisneria or cryptocoryne plants.
Bladder and ramshorn snails lay egg sacs that contain multiple babies, whereas Malaysian trumpet snails give birth to live young.
If you’re interested in some clean-up crew members besides snails, don’t forget to read our article for the top 10 helpful animals we recommend in freshwater tanks.