At one point or another many aquarists are surprised to find a colony of snails threatening to overrun their aquariums. Snails seemingly come out of nowhere and, in a matter of days or weeks, can reach such a population as to become a nuisance, even a hazard, to your aquarium. If you act quickly, things can be done to prevent the rapid reproduction of snails and you can remove them from your aquarium before they take over.
While typically harmless, snails can be problematic. They can disturb the natural balance of aquariums and, depending on the species, can decimate plants.
But, more often than not, snails in an aquarium can be quite beneficial: they are efficient cleaners, thus lowering nitrates in the environment; they are peaceful; they are fascinating creatures that can be very educational; and, depending on species, they can assist with the growth of plants. However, when the more parasitic species increase in number, they can also out-compete some scavengers or shy tank mates for food. Not to mention that thousands of snails crawling on the glass can be distracting and a bit of an eyesore.
Where do Freshwater Snails Come From?
There are several ways that snails may enter your aquarium. While snails may enter an aquarium through gravel or substrate the most common way is via live plants. Snail eggs may easily be hidden among plant leaves and can be transported into an aquarium to hatch and multiply.
If you want to avoid having to deal with the nuisance of snails in your aquarium you can take a few simple steps to prevent them from ever entering your tank. Check live plants thoroughly for freshwater snails and snail eggs before putting them into your tank. As an added precaution you can even soak live plants in salty water for ten minutes – this will kill any aquarium snails, snail eggs, or other organisms living on the plant.
What do Snails Do?
A limited number of freshwater snails in an aquarium can actually be beneficial. Snails act as both algae eaters and scavengers – they help to control algae growth and feed on uneaten fish food and other debris. If allowed to multiply freely, however, snails in an aquarium can add to the biological load and they may even begin to destroy live plants.
The Peaceful Methods of Removing Freshwater Aquarium Snails
Make a House for Aquatic Snails – Set up a separate small snail aquarium or “snail refuge.” Just pick out the snails and drop them in. Even on their own, snails are truly interesting specimens. Feeding them is even easier; it can be as simple as dropping them an algae wafer or sinking fish food or even vegetables you might have around the house. They only need the most minimal of water filtration and aeration to survive.
I use this handy snail catcher (click on image to buy on Amazon)
Lure Snails Out of the Aquarium – It may be undesirable to get wet or introduce outside elements to the aquarium. In this case, get a shot glass or other small container to act as a trap for the snails. Place the shot glass in the center of the aquarium, or wherever the snails tend to congregate the most. Drop in the bait—something suitable such as an algae wafer. It may take a few hours for them to smell the food and seek it out, but after some time all that is required is to scoop them out in mass or in the shot glass itself. Easy as pie.
You might try running hot water over a piece of lettuce for a few seconds before placing it in the aquarium at night. Because aquarium snails especially love to feed on decaying plant matter they will converge on the piece of wilted lettuce and you can remove both the lettuce and the snails attached to it in the morning.
The Alternative Uses for Aquarium Snails
Use Snails in the Aquarium as a Food Source – There are quite a few fish out there that feed on snails, including puffer fish, loaches, and certain cichlids. Snails are, after all, part of the food chain. So treat them as such. Puffer fish are very efficient at removing unwanted snails. In fact, it is necessary for them to feed on such snails as their hard shells help to properly wear down the puffer’s ever-growing teeth.
If you want to know how to get rid of snails entirely, try introducing natural predators like loaches or pufferfish into your aquarium. These types of fish do not always get along well with other species but they can be very effective in helping to get rid of snails in an aquarium. You may also want to decrease the amount of food you feed your fish – limit their feeding to the amount they can eat within two to five minutes. Less uneaten food sinking to the bottom of the tank means less food for snails to scavenge.
Subvert the Snails – Use snails to fight snails! There is a specific breed of snail called the Assassin Snail (Antentome Helena) which lives off other snails. Just a few of these guys will cure snail infestations of any size. Assassin snails are small and breed slowly, so they won’t overrun a freshwater aquarium. These stealthy guys won’t hurt aquatic plants either!
How to Kill Snails in the Aquarium
There are chemicals on the market that specifically eliminate aquarium snails. Copper solutions are very efficient at killing invasive snails. However, this is wasteful, as, with a little ingenuity, the snails can be put to much use. Also, the introduction of chemicals to the aquarium can very easily disrupt the system much more than the snails. They will almost certainly kill off any other invertebrates in the aquarium, and can possibly endanger your other sensitive fish and plants. Chemicals should only be used as a last resort.
While it is often necessary to remove freshwater snails from the home aquarium, one should not overlook their potential usefulness. There are plenty of methods out there to kills snails, but the effort should be made to incorporate them into the environment, whether that be as a worker, or as a food source.
A copper solution to kill snail from Seachem (click image for more info)