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Aquarium Snails – Friend or Foe?

aquarium snail bladder snail

Aquarium snails are often thought of as ‘Pest invaders’. In this article we will look through why this is and uncover some of the huge benefits to having a population of snails in your aquarium.

Aquarium Snails

Snails are a common sight in aquariums. Whilst many people add aquarium snails intentionally, some aquarists gain these extra ‘pets’ by accident.

Snails can unintentionally enter the aquarium in various ways, the most common being as eggs attached to live plants.

It’s very common to see aquarists requesting an identification on their new shelled friends, often also enquiring on whether this unidentified gastropod is a keeper or a pest.

An equally common response to these queries seems to be ‘Get rid of it now!’ Or ‘They will take over’, or some other snail related panic-inducing statement.

But why are aquarists so afraid of aquarium snails?

rabbit snail elephant snail aquarium snails

There certainly can be some minor cons to snails entering an aquarium and this seems to be what many aquarists focus on.

Many though, have been blown out of proportion.

There are, however, lots of pros to aquarium snails too and, in my opinion, they far outweigh the cons….

Aquarium snails – the fear

There are many types of snail that can ‘invade’ our aquariums, and many can reproduce asexually.

Some of the most common examples of snails we may find in our tanks that have this ability are:

The ability to reproduce asexually means that a single snail is able to breed without the need for a partner.

This is one of the many reasons that aquarists fear a snail invasion.

Many aquarists have struggled with this and a single snail entering their aquarium has ended in an infestation so numerous that not a single area of the aquarium did not have a snail on it.

This is common but it is also easily avoided.

Avoiding Snail over population

The multiplication of these snails is based almost solely on one factor: Food.

Like all other living things, snail populations cannot grow unless there is food available to feed the new additions. If you overfeed your fish, this will leave an excess of food at the bottom of the aquarium.

To a population of snails, this is an all you can eat buffet and an opportunity to reproduce.  

So, if your population of snails is rapidly increasing it means one of two things. Either; you are overfeeding the tank, or, your tank is producing a lot of algae for them to eat. 

The population of these snails is directly controlled by the amount of food available.

This makes them a great indicator as to how much to feed. If your snail population is booming, consider cutting back on how much food you’re putting into the tank.

Aquarium Snails that will not breed

The fear of snail populations expanding has led many aquarists to opt for keeping Nerite Snails in their aquarium, rather than other freshwater species. Nerites can live in freshwater will not breed in freshwater, they require Brackish conditions for their eggs to hatch. 

This has attracted many aquarists to them but they do have a drawback that other aquarium snails do not. Despite the fact that they cannot reproduce in freshwater, they will still lay eggs. 

They often lay their eggs on driftwood, in filter openings and on many other surfaces. The eggs look as you might expect, like little white, spherical balls attached to surfaces. 

nerite snail eggs aquarium snails

                                                  (Nerite eggs – photo credit – cabritonyc)

Nerite eggs are particularly difficult to remove and can remain where they have been laid for long, long periods of time. This can mean that rather than the dreaded snail infestation, you may end up overrun with eggs that never hatch instead. 


Aquarium snails – clean up crew

As I have already eluded to, aquarium snails eat algae and leftover fish food.

This makes them an excellent little cleanup crew for your aquarium.

As most of you will already know, snails aren’t fast, so they will not ‘steal’ food from your fish. This means they only get the food that your fish have discarded and not eaten.

Cleaning this up is handy, as it can look messy and can affect your water clarity as it breaks down.

A bunch of ‘living hoovers’ in your aquarium will mean that you have less hoovering to do yourself when maintenance day arrives. Handy!

Algae eaters!

Many species of snail (including the four species listed above) eat algae.

Algae is another aquarium ‘pest’ that we try to avoid. Algae has benefits too, but most aquarists hate the sight of it, me included most of the time.

So, having a population of algae-eating snails can save you some time scrubbing algae off your aquarium glass and decor too. Bonus!

Aquarium Snails – Free fish food!

In nature, snails are food for many animals. The long list of creatures that eat snails includes fish.

Most fish will snack on a snail providing it will fit into their mouths. A snail is a crunchy, protein-filled treat for a fish, they love them. 

So, a population of aquarium snails could provide a source of free fish food for your tank. 

A great example of this is pufferfish. Pufferfish, such as Amazon puffers, pea puffers and Figure 8s love snails. The crunchy shell helps the puffer to keep their teeth filed whilst providing a tasty treat.

Cichlids and Goldfish will happily devour snails too: My 4 Amatitlania Myrnae wiped out around 200 Ramshorn snails that I had been trying to breed – I thought the Myrnae were too small to eat them, I was wrong. 

Most fish will consume snails given the opportunity. 

Here is a quick video of a young puffer eating his first snail:

Aquarium Snails – Planted tanks

Many aquarists with planted tanks are afraid that a snail infestation will mean the end of any aquarium vegetation. 

This seems to be a myth. Most aquarium snails will not eat live healthy plants unless there is no other food available. 

Live plants are tough and take a lot of chewing if you’re a tiny snail, so it’s far easier to eat algae and tasty leftover fish food than it is to eat a live plant, so they just don’t bother. 

Some snails may have the occasional nibble, but it would take a vast population without access to other food to wipe out all the plants in the tank. 

What most snails will eat is decaying plant matter. This is plant matter that has become detached and has died. 

Decaying plant matter doesn’t look particularly attractive and is something we tend to avoid a build-up of in the aquarium. Snails will help with this. 

This adds to these little ‘living hoovers’ ability to keep your aquarium clean. Excellent!

Aquarium Snails – Substrate

We’ve already covered what great little cleaners snails can be. But what we haven’t mentioned is that they will also clean and turn your substrate for you.

Snails such as Malaysian Trumpet snails like to burrow. This means that they move your substrate as they do. 

Moving the substrate is great, this can ensure that anything trapped under it is released and the snail will also eat anything it can find in there. This helps to keep your substrate clean and free of detritus.

This again means less gravel hoovering for you, meaning less time cleaning the tank. Win!

Aquarium Snails – Friend or Foe?

In my opinion, snails are a great addition to any aquarium setup. 

Aquarium snails can act as a feeding guide, a cleanup crew, a free food source and they add a little extra entertainment to any tank. 

Whilst some snails, such as pond or bladder snails, arent particularly attractive or great to look at, some can be. 

A particular favourite of mine are Ramshorn snails. These guys are easy to keep and come in a range of different colours. 

Try not to be afraid of snails. Many aquarists have become very ‘doom and gloom’ when it comes to snails and will advise anyone who finds a snail in their tank to dispose of it immediately.

Snails will not cause any harm to your aquarium. The worst that can happen is that they become so numerous that they are an eyesore. If that happens, it is because they have enough food to support such a large population, so cut back on feeding. 

Cutting back on feeding will reduce the population over time. 

You could think of snails as ‘shrimp with shells’, they do the same jobs that a cherry shrimp would but don’t receive the same level of credit I don’t think. So, if your aquarium is looking a little messy, try giving some snails a try, you may only ever need to buy one to have a lifetime supply!

Always do some extra research before purchasing any new aquarium inhabitants. You will find lots of info in our Knowledge Base and in our Blog, both of which will be regularly updated. 


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About the author

James @Seriously Fishy

I am a fish keeping enthusiast with over 20 years experience. I currently keep American Cichlids (CA) which are my favourite fish to keep so far. I started Seriously Fishy as I noticed a large volume of people on various web pages looking for help with Aquarium basics. I created the first Seriously Fishy book to solve the issue in 28 pages, that led to the Seriously Fishy UK fish forum and blog.

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