FAQ: Snails

contributed by George Booth

Snails are usually considered disasters in a plant tank, but with dense planting and good plant growing conditions, the right type of snail can be very useful by consuming dead plant material and detritus. Any damage they do cause will be compensated for by fast plant growth.


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Water Hardness

Most snails do best in harder/alkaline water. If the hardness/ph drops below a certain point, their shells will start to dissolve and/or grow improperly (the behavior seems to be based on species). Malaysian trumpet snails seem the hardiest, showing little adverse effect from soft water. The Ramshorn snails shell will start to dissolve, and gaps will form in the new shell growth. Mystery snails will form gaps. Most of these problems can be corrected by hardening the water, and the snails will recover, although exterior shell damage (from dissolving) will remain.

Types of Snails

Malaysian trumpet snail

The Malaysian snail, Melanoides tubercularia, is an interesting creature in that it lives in the substrate during the day and only comes out at night. Its shell is a perfect cone shape and gets to about 2 cm long. It is a livebearing snail and reproduces quite readily. It is considered beneficial to a plant tank and doesn't seen to harm plants, even in large populations. They are hard to find for sale, but usually come for free on plant shipments. If desired, Clown loaches will keep them and other snails well under control.

Ramshorn Snail

Ramshorn snails are very common and come in various sizes. Their shape is as their name suggests. The smaller varieties (under 1 cm) are not too damaging to a plant tank, although they seem to relish the tender leaves of the Hygrophila family.

The other type is the dark and light brown striped Columbian Ramshorn that can grow big as large as 2 inches in diameter. The stripes run the length of the shell with a pattern of random width light-dark- light stripes that stays constant throughout the snails life. These snails are extremely prolific and have a terrific appetite for plants.

Pond Snails

Pond snails are football shaped snails under 2 cm in length. They are to be avoided, as they will happily eat all your plants.

Mystery (Apple) Snails

One of the most beautiful kinds of snails are the Mystery snails. These snails have a shape similar to the Pond snail, but their spiral is rounder, and they grow much larger. They can reach tennis-ball size if well taken care of. The come in many varieties. The snail's body can be dark, or almost albino (very light with a bright orange speckle pattern). The shell can be dark, bright orange, albino, or multi-colored striped (length-wise like the Ramshorn). The Apple snail variety typically has the multi-colored stripes, with a dark body. In general these snails don't eat living plants. They prefer algae and dead plant/animal material (canned spinach will get you a very large Mystery snail).

Snail Prophylactics

To guard against unwanted snails, use a weak potassium permanganate solution. The Manual of Fish Health recommends a concentration of 10 mg/l as a 10-minute bath as a general disenfectant for aquarium plants. Then rinse them in running water. This kills snail eggs and parasites and might guard against algae spores.

Alum is also useful. Get "Alum U.S.P." at the drug store. Soak the plants in a gallon of water that has up to 10 teaspoons of Alum. The Alum kills microscopic bugs. Longer soaks (2-3 days) will kill snail eggs and/or snails.

End of Disease FAQ.

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