6 Best Snails for Your Freshwater Aquarium

Freshwater Snails

Snails are easily one of the most controversial creatures in the aquarium game. Many people view them as pests because of their ability to arrive in tanks uninvited and their prolific reproductive rates. However, no matter how big or small, every snail species can bring a lot of beneficial qualities to an aquarium.

If you’re looking for some whimsical diversity, you should seriously consider adding a snail or two to your aquatic ecosystem. With some research and care, it can be quite easy to find the perfect snail for you.

In this article, we will discuss both the good and bad sides of and aquarist-snail relationship. We will examine the basics of snail care, highlight some of our favorite snail inhabitants, and talk about ways to remove unwanted snails from your aquarium.

Benefits of Snails

Like any creature you add to your aquarium, each snail species is going to bring its own unique set of benefits and challenges. However, in general, there are several benefits that most snail species provide:

1. Remove Harmful Substances

Most snail species are scavengers and grazers, meaning that their diet will subsist of the algae, detritus, fish waste, dead plant matter, and/or aufwuch that line the bottom and sides of your tank. The presence of snails can, therefore, help keep your tank clean and decrease the amount of maintenance that your tank requires.

2. Add Color and Diversity

Snails come in a variety of sizes, colors, and patterns. In an aquarium setting, their brightly-colored, whirly shells can add a unique pop of color and texture otherwise missing from the tank aesthetic.

3. Endless Entertainment

Snails are naturally adventurous, inquisitive creatures. They will spend their days traversing every inch of your tank, including the decorations, glass walls, plants, and filters, as they hunt for food and fun.

Snail Care

As with any other organism that you put in your tank, the type of care that a snail requires is species-dependent. Therefore, before adding snails to your aquarium, make sure you consider the following habitat parameters:

1. Water Quality

Just like fish, snails are much more likely to survive if placed in a pre-cycled aquarium. It is also recommended to treat your aquarium water with a pH balancer a couple of days prior to adding your snails, to ensure that the water quality is ideal.

Snails need hard water (water that has a high mineral content) with plenty of calcium and minimal copper. Calcium is beneficial for the health of their shells. On the other hand, copper is toxic to snails and can cause illness or death if left unchecked.

2. Substrate

Snails general fall into two categories: snails that burrow and snails that stay on the surface. If you purchase a burrowing snail for your tank, make sure that you have a sandy or gravelly substrate.

Substrate for Freshwater Snails

3. The Tank

Adding a snail to your aquarium is like adding a puppy to your home- if you don’t snail-proof before getting them, they can ruin your things. Snails are avid climbers and naturally inquisitive.

Snails will explore any area they can reach. This includes the outside of your tank and the inside of your filter (snails are notorious for breaking filters from the inside). Therefore, make sure you have a secure lid and that the slits in your filter are too small for them to penetrate.

4. Tankmates

As with any creature you add to your tank, it is important to ensure that they will fit in with the other residents. Small snails should be placed with smaller, peaceful fish that won’t bully and/or eat them. Likewise, large or carnivorous snails should be placed with larger fish that they won’t bully and/or eat.

Though predation can be an issue, snails are generally peaceful creatures that will coexist with nearly all peaceful fish, shrimp, and crab species.

5. Overcrowding

When you’ve run out of room in your aquarium for fish, it can be tempting to add snails to diversify the ecosystem. However, it’s important to remember that just like all other organisms, snails have a bioload.

Therefore, make sure that your tank and filtration system will not be overwhelmed by the addition of your snails before introducing them. This is even more important when adding a species with a known high reproductive rate.

Once you have decided to introduce a snail into your aquarium, it is important to make sure you choose a species that will enhance, not detract from, your overall ecosystem.

Our Top 6 Snails for Freshwater Aquariums

1. Nerite Snails

Nerite Snail

    • Experience Level: Beginner
    • Temperament: Peaceful
    • Maximum Size: 0.5-1.5”
    • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
    • Lifespan: 1-2 years
    • Diet: Herbivore

Nerite Snails are some of the most popular aquarium snails on the market and, when you see their small stature and striking striped shells, it’s not hard to see why. However, their benefits extend far beyond their appearance.

Nerite Snails consume algae at an incredible rate. While most snail species stick to green algae, Nerite Snails will also happily consume any brown algae (diatoms) that they find.

You won’t have to worry about breeding with Nerite Snails, either. Nerite eggs only hatch in brackish water, so as long as you have a freshwater tank, you won’t have to worry about baby snails making an appearance. There is one caveat: if you have a household water softener, the eggs may be able to hatch thanks to the increase in sodium.

The Nerite family has a variety of species, including the Zebra Nerite, the Tiger Nerite, the Horned Nerite, and the Black Racer Nerite. Though their appearances differ, the care instructions for the various Nerite family members are virtually the same.

Nerite Snails have one unique challenge: when they flip themselves over, they get stuck upside down. While this challenge is undoubtedly adorable, it also means that you need to check on them periodically to ensure they are still right-side-up.

2. Mystery Snails

Mystery Snails

    • Experience Level: Beginner
    • Temperament: Peaceful
    • Maximum Size: 2.0”
    • Minimum Tank Size: 5 gallons
    • Lifespan: 1 year
    • Diet: Herbivore

Mystery Snails are a group of snails in the genus Pomacea. They are one of the most popular groups in the Ampullariidae family- also known as the Apple Snails. Mystery Snails are a more popular choice because they are affordable and easy to find in aquarium shops and pet stores.

Mystery Snails are voracious eaters and will subsist off of the leftover food, fish waste, and organic material in the tank. Mystery snails are active, amicable, and will get along well with just about any tankmates.

Though Mystery Snails are relatively hardy, they do have one major tank request: they need enough space between the top of the water and the lid of the aquarium to come up for air a couple of times each day.

This is especially important for female Mystery Snails, who lay their eggs above water. While this may seem like a pain, it is actually good news for aquarists. Unlike most snail species, Mystery Snail eggs are easy to find and dispose of for population control.

One of the Mystery Snails’ most unique traits is their sleeping habits. On occasion, Mystery Snails have been known to pull into their shell and float around the tank while they sleep. Therefore if you see a floating snail, don’t panic! He’s not dead, just tired.

When looking at Mystery Snails, it is important to note that there is another species, Cipangopaludina Chinensis that is also called a Mystery Snail. However, this species is used primarily in the food industry, not in the aquarium industry, and is considered an invasive species in many areas of America.

3. Black Devil Snails

Black Devil Snails

    • Experience Level: Beginner
    • Temperament: Peaceful
    • Maximum Size: 3.5”
    • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
    • Lifespan: 3-5 years
    • Diet: Herbivore

As the Black Devil Snail moves about the tank, its jet black body and long, spiked shell make it look like a creature from hell. However, while its exterior looks sinister, its personality is anything but.

Black Devil Snails, also known as Lava Snails, are some of the hardiest, most peaceful snails around. Their friendly demeanor, as well as their larger size, makes them an easy addition to any peaceful to semi-aggressive freshwater ecosystem.

At 3.5” fully grown, Black Devil Snails will quickly become a centerpiece in your aquarium. They are incredibly active and, in addition to climbing along walls and plants, also enjoy burrowing into the substrate.

One of the biggest challenges with the Black Devil Snail is their diet. A big portion of the Black Devil Snail’s diet tends to be live plants. They have been known to wreak havoc on planted tanks as they slowly chomp away at the pretty greenery.

However, their love of greenery doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. If you have a planted tank, ensuring that there is plenty of other accessible food, such as algae, excessive fish food, or fish waste, can decrease or completely stop the plant consumption.

Most importantly, you never have to worry about your population getting out of hand. Like the Nerite Snails, Black Devil Snail eggs only hatch in brackish water, making it perfectly safe to add multiple Black Devil Snails to your aquarium.

4. Rabbit Snails

Rabbit Snails

    • Experience Level: Beginner
    • Temperament: Peaceful
    • Maximum Size: 2.5-4.5”
    • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
    • Lifespan: 1-3 years
    • Diet: Herbivore

Rabbit Snails, also known as Elephant Snails, are large freshwater snails that got their nicknames from the unique shape of their head. With their large bodies and long, slender shells, they are an immediate eye-catcher.

Rabbit Snails are the perfect snail for the beginning aquarist because they are highly adaptable and incredibly hardy. They are a peaceful species that will get along with nearly any tankmate when placed in a peaceful or semi-aggressive freshwater environment.

Surprisingly, though named after one of the more enthusiastic reproducers in the animal kingdom, Rabbit Snail populations are surprisingly easy to control. Rabbit Snails only lay one, pearly white egg every four to six weeks.

As their shells suggest, Rabbit Snails are avid burrowers that will maintain the health of a sandy or gravelly substrate through their foraging. Their burrowing also aerates the substrate, thus improving the health of any live plants.

Rabbit Snails primarily subsist on a diet of algae and decaying plant matter. However, they will happily supplement their diet with leftover fish flakes or algae wafers. While they are not a normal plant-eater, they have been known to make an exception for the delicious Java Fern.

Unlike many other snail species, Rabbit Snails are not solely diurnal. Though they tend to stay awake during normal daylight hours, they also frequently peruse at night, making your tank feel active no matter when you are admiring it.

5. Assassin Snails

Assassin Snails

    • Experience Level: Beginner
    • Temperament: Peaceful, except to other snails
    • Maximum Size: 0.75-3.0”
    • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
    • Lifespan: 1 year
    • Diet: Carnivore

When you see the delicate black and yellow shell of the Assassin Snail moving slowly across your tank, the word “assassin” probably isn’t the first word to come to mind. However, in the proper environment, Assassin Snails can live up to their grisly names.

Assassin Snails eat any other species of snail that is the same size as them or smaller. With the efficiency and poise of a trained warrior, they will parole your tank, preying on other snail species.

While this may seem detrimental, it can actually be incredibly beneficial for your tank. If you decide to populate your tank with one of the quick breeding species or find yourself with an unexpected snail infestation, Assassin Snails can be the perfect solution.

In addition to other snails, Assassin Snails will also eat other meaty foods, such as bloodworms, shrimp, and fish flakes. Assassin Snails will also burrow into the substrate to find and devour any leftover fish food scraps.

Luckily, while Assassin Snails control other snail populations, they themselves don’t reproduce uncontrollably. Females will only lay 1-4 eggs at a time, so their population is easy to manage.

Though dangerous around snails and shrimps, Assassin Snails make excellent tankmates for most other species. They are friendly with fish, and will burrow into and aerate soils to keep your plants happy. Overall, if you’re looking for a snail management solution that is beautiful and efficient, you can’t go wrong with the Assassin Snail.

6. Japanese Trapdoor Snails

    • Experience Level: Beginner
    • Temperament: Peaceful
    • Maximum Size: 2.0”
    • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gallons
    • Lifespan: 5 years
    • Diet: Omnivore

Japanese Trapdoor Snails are undoubtedly one of the most unique snails on the market. While most snails create a circular shell that extends towards their rear, Japanese Trapdoor Snails perch their orange and yellow shells so that their spiral shoots out to the side.

The whimsical way they wear their shells is matched by their bubbly personalities. Japanese Trapdoor snails are active and adventurous, and will happily coexist with nearly everyone.

Japanese Trapdoor Snails get their name from their robust operculum (the hard disc that covers their mantle). While most snails have an operculum, few use it as successfully as the Japanese Trapdoor Snail.

When Japanese Trapdoor Snails pull into their shell, their operculum snaps closed behind them like a trapdoor sealing them away from the world. In fact, their operculum closes so successfully that they can survive for hours outside of the water, kept alive by the moisture held within their shells.

Japanese Trapdoor Snails primarily feed on algae and waste, but are known to nibble on live plants if lacking enough nutrition. Unlike many of the snails in the aquarium trade, Japanese snails are from a colder environment, and can, therefore, thrive in unheated aquariums or outdoor ponds.

Unlike most snails, they are viviparous (give birth to live young), so they reproduce slowly. Japanese Trapdoor Snails are also extremely adaptable and easy to care for, making them a fantastic freshwater snail for the beginner snail owner.

How to Get Rid of Snail Pests

While any of the snails on this list would likely great additions to your freshwater aquarium, there are inevitably other species that would easily overthrow your delicate ecosystem.

Therefore, for those times when snails invade, it is important to understand how to manage the assault:

1. Preventative Measures

Contrary to how it might seem, snails do not just appear out of thin air; they must be added to the tank. Therefore, if you discover snails in your aquarium where previously you had none, it means they stealthily hitched a ride on one of the plants, decorations, or fish that you recently added.

The best way to manage a snail infestation is to keep it from happening in the first place. Whenever you purchase anything for your tank, make sure you carefully check it for snails or eggs. If you purchase live plants, soak them in solutions of bleach, alum, or potassium permanganate before placing them in your tank to kill off any unwanted hitchhikers.

2. Limit the Food Supply

Most snail species eat algae, leftover fish food, fish waste, and other organic materials. Though limiting the food supply doesn’t completely remove snails from your tank, limiting how much you are feeding your fish and maintaining a clean tank can drastically decrease populations.

3. Use Chemicals to Kill the Snails

Copper, as mentioned above, is toxic to snails. Therefore, snail-killing chemicals, such as copper sulfate, will prove lethal to snails while being safe for fish.

One word of caution: chemicals typically cause a massive snail die-off, which will quickly affect the balance of your aquarium. Therefore, it is important to immediately remove the dead snails and monitor water chemistry within the tank to prevent a full-scale tank crash.

4. Manual Removal

Manual removal can be completed by hand or with traps. While there are multiple options for snail traps online, the best option is also the most inexpensive: lettuce. Clip a leaf of lettuce to the top of your tank overnight. By the morning, the bottom of the lettuce will be covered in snails. Doing this several nights in a row will take care of most, if not all, of the snails in your tank.

If you choose to remove the snails manually, make sure you have a plan in place for the snails you catch. While snails are a beautiful addition to aquariums, they can also be invasive in the wild. Make sure you check regulations before releasing any snails into the environment.

5. Predation

Finally, you can always treat a snail population with some good, old fashioned biology. Snail predators can easily help you maintain your snail population while limiting the amount of cleanup you have to do.

Some of the best snail predators include loaches, pufferfish, bettas, gourami, most Africa Cichlids, and carnivorous snails. If you choose to go this route, make sure your predators aren’t overfed; if you provide them with too much food, they’ll have no reason to go snail hunting.

Final Thoughts

There’s no doubt about it- snails can be pests. However, they can also easily become one of your favorite tank inhabitants. With proper research and preparation, adding snails to your aquarium can be beneficial for you, your fish, and your entire aquarium ecosystem.

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