Top 7 Helpful Snails for Your Next Freshwater Aquarium
Not everyone is a fan of aquarium snails, but we love them because of the important role they play in an underwater ecosystem. As detritivores, they help to clean up and break down organics in the tank, such as leftover fish food, dying plant leaves, algae, and even deceased animals. To help you see the value in these amazing creatures, we put together a list of our top 7 freshwater snails that we enjoy keeping. Most of these snails are completely safe with aquarium plants, but there is caveat with the last one.
General Care Tips for Snails
Because snails need certain minerals like calcium for proper shell development, they tend to prefer higher pH above 7.0 and higher GH above 8° (140 ppm). If you notice pits, cracks, or holes in your snail’s shell, consider dosing the water with mineral supplements such as Wonder Shell and Seachem Equilibrium. Crushed coral in the substrate and filter media can also help buffer up the pH. Plus, you can feed calcium-rich foods, like Shrimp Cuisine, Crab Cuisine, and Zoo Med Nano Banquet Food Blocks.
Most snails are very sensitive to salt, so you may need to take them out of the aquarium before treating your fish with sodium chloride. It is normal for snails to not move when they are resting, but if you find one of them is hanging out of its shell or has a putrid odor, remove it from the tank to prevent the water from fouling.
To keep your aquarium safe for snails, avoid snail-eating predators such as certain loaches and pufferfish. Plus, some snails are known to escape out of the tank, so make sure you have a tight-fitting lid, cover any openings with craft mesh, and consider lowering the water level if needed.
1. Bladder Snail
This common snail comes from the Physidae family and is known for its brown, bulbous shell with speckled spots. They stay fairly small at less than 1 inch (2.5 cm), which makes them small enough to clean out the nooks and crannies in your tank. Bladder snails are sometimes confused with larger pond snails, which can grow to 2–3 inches (5–8 cm) and like to eat aquarium plants. They are not fussy about water parameters and can handle a wide range of pH and temperatures.
Many people refer to them as “pest snails” since they are simultaneous hermaphrodites that can fertilize themselves. The eggs look like tiny, white dots encased in a blob of clear jelly and can be found on the tank walls, plants, and other surfaces. If you experience a population explosion in bladder snails, you may be feeding the aquarium too much. Consider decreasing the amount of food going into the tank, managing algae growth, and gravel vacuuming more often to remove excess organics. Once the food sources dry up, the snail population will stabilize. For more tips and tricks on managing your colony of snails, read the full article.
2. Nerite Snail
Snails from the Neritidae family are well-known for being one of the best algae eaters in the freshwater aquarium hobby and are even capable of eating green spot algae. They range from 0.5–1.5 inches (1.3–3.8 cm) and are available in several varieties — such as olive, zebra, red racer, tiger and horned nerite snails. They are prone to escaping, so keep a tight lid on your aquarium. Also, if there is not enough algae in the tank, they can potentially starve to death. Supplement their diet with canned green beans, blanched zucchini slices, and Zoo Med Nano Banquet Food Blocks.
Unlike most snails, nerite snails have a very high salt tolerance and are used to breeding in brackish water. While you may see them leave white, sesame seed-like egg capsules on the tank walls or decorations, they won’t hatch in fresh water, so there is no need to worry about them breeding out of control.
3. Ramshorn Snail
This beautiful snail from the Planorbidae family has a unique shell that looks like ram’s coiled horn. They can grow up to 1–2 inches (2.5–5 cm) and come in many pretty colors — like brown, gold, gray-blue, and pink. These lovely gastropods will happily clean up your aquarium by consuming any algae, fish food, and melting plant leaves they come across. Like the bladder snail, they are simultaneous hermaphrodites that possess both male and female sexual organs at the same time. Their eggs are similar to bladder snail eggs and look like small dots coated in a mound of transparent gelatin.
4. Mystery Snail
Pomacea bridgesii is a popular South American snail that reaches 2–2.5 inches (5–6 cm) in diameter. They are safe with plants, unlike some larger Pomacea species such as the Peruvian apple snail and the giant apple snail. You can find numerous varieties (e.g., ivory, yellow gold, jade, blue, brown, purple, and magenta) for sale at most pet stores. They are relatively fast and active for a snail and display many fascinating behaviors, such as climbing to the top of the tank and “parachuting” down. You may also see them rest near the water surface, extend their breathing siphon, and inhale water to pass over their gills.
Mystery snails are not hermaphroditic, and males and females can be sexed by holding the snail’s shell so that its foot is vertical as if it were climbing up a wall. When the snail extends its body out of the shell, you can see that a female has two holes on each of her shoulders, where as a male only has one hole on his left shoulder. When spawning, the female climbs up to the surface and lays a cluster of eggs above the water. Their population is fairly easy to control because the large egg cluster can be removed if babies are not desired.
5. Malaysian Trumpet Snail (MTS)
Melanoides tuberculate is a mostly nocturnal snail with a 1-inch (2.5) shell that is pointy, elongated, and brown. They spend much of their time burrowed in the substrate, waiting until dark to come out and forage. Many people like them because they regularly turn over the sand or gravel, which can help mix in mulm for plants to use as nutrients and prevent cyanobacteria from covering the ground. They are extremely hardy and can survive in uninhabitable conditions that would be fatal to other snails. Like the nerite snail, they have a high tolerance for salt and can be acclimated to live in brackish aquariums.
While Malaysian trumpet snails are not hermaphroditic, they have a rapid breeding rate because females can create clones without the presence of males. The eggs are incubated in the mother’s brood pouch, and once hatched, the mother releases live young that look like miniature versions of the adults.
6. Assassin Snail
Anentome helena is a 1-inch (2.5 cm) snail from Southeast Asia that has a pointy, textured shell with beautiful brown and yellow striping like a bumblebee. However, unlike the other detritivore snails on this list, the assassin snail is a carnivore that specializes in eating other snails. Like the MTS, it enjoys burrowing in the ground and then comes out when prey is detected. Many aquarists use them to get rid of smaller snails, like bladder, ramshorn, and Malaysian trumpet snails. However, groups of assassin snails are capable of taking down snails that are much larger than themselves. If all available snails have been eliminated, they will also opportunistically feed on fish food, worms, and deceased animals.
Assassin snails are not hermaphrodites and have a slower breeding rate compared to other snails. They lay translucent, square-shaped egg capsules that each contain a single egg. Since they are so useful for keeping pest snail populations under control, local fish stores are often willing to buy any extra assassin snails you produce.
7. Rabbit Snail
The rabbit or Sulawesi snails of the Tylomelania genus originate from Indonesia and enjoy hotter temperatures from 80–86°F (27–30°C). Similar to Malaysian trumpet snails, they have long and pointy shells, but they grow much larger, reaching up to 3–5 inches (8–13 cm) long. They have brown to black shells, antennae that look like rabbit ears, and colorful or patterned bodies. While they usually consume fish food, blanched vegetables, and soft algae, they may start to nibble on plants with softer leaves and stems if not fed enough. However, they seem to do fine with tougher, thicker plants like anubias.
Rabbit snails are very peaceful, slow-moving, and slow to reproduce. They are not hermaphroditic and give birth to live snails, similar to Malaysian trumpet snails. We may see one baby appear about every 4–6 weeks, and the young take a long time to grow up and reach sexual maturity.
Snails are such amazing clean-up crew members that help further break down organics into nutrients that can be utilized by aquatic plants. To get your own aquarium snails, check out our recommended list of online fish retailers.