Snails are a fascinating and practical addition to both freshwater and saltwater aquariums. With a variety of species to choose from, you can easily find the best type of snail for your tank.
Types of Freshwater Snails
Several species of snails suited for freshwater aquariums that can be easily found in popular pet stores. You can also order them online from reputable dealers.
This group of snails comprises between 100 and 200 species in the family Ampullariidae. According to AppleSnail.net, these snails eat common vegetables, aquatic vegetation, and fish food, but do not prefer algae as a food source. They are large snails, reaching as much as six inches in diameter in the biggest species.
Apple snails can be considered a pest in a planted tank. However, they are found in a variety of colors, including blue, yellow, or albino, making them a popular aquarium inhabitant.
Horned Nerite Snails
The horned nerite snail has a unique appearance, with a pattern of black and yellow swirls on the shell, and hard protuberances that give this species its name. Planet Inverts reports that this species is great at eating algae and is approximately 1/4-inch in diameter. These snails will not breed in freshwater, so overpopulation is less of a concern than with other species.
Malaysian Trumpet Snails
This species (Melanoides tuberculata) is very popular and is a good choice for a planted tank. These snails will not eat plants, ingesting only detritus and leftover food that has fallen into the substrate of the tank. When these snails burrow in their search for food, they will aerate the substrate. This is beneficial for planted tanks, as the process promotes air exchange and foot growth.
The Malaysian trumpet snail has an elongated spiral shell and is tan with brown speckles. They usually reach 2 to 3 cm in length, but can become larger. This snail species reproduces rapidly, and a sudden population explosion can indicate overfeeding in your tank.
This group of snails also consists of a variety of species and are often thought of as aquarium pests. Pond snails eat everything - leftover food, dead carcasses, algae, and live plants. They are great scavengers and will keep your tank clean, but are disastrous inhabitants for a planted tank.
Pond snails are brown to yellow-brown in color and have round shells. They remain small, staying at under 1/4-inch in diameter.
Ramshorn snails are a family that contains several small species. While Ramshorn snails are often thought of as pests, they are not quite as likely to eat live plants as pond snails. According to hobbyist Jan at Aqua-Fish.net, these snails do a great job keeping an aquarium clean. They are scavengers and will eat leftover food or fish carcasses.
Many color varieties of Ramshorn snails can be found, including pink, blue, or brown. Their shells are spiral in shape and they lay eggs in a hard mucous that can be difficult to remove from your aquarium.
Things to Avoid With Freshwater Species
If you want to keep your snails alive, you need to be aware of several threats to their health. Follow these guidelines from ThinkFish.co.uk to ensure that your snails will stay around:
- Avoid the use of copper-based medications - these are toxic to most invertebrates.
- Do not keep snails with clown loaches, some smaller loaches, gouramis, freshwater pufferfish, or certain species of catfish.
- Avoid assassin snails (Antentome helena) because they will eat other species of snails. This medium-sized invertebrate can also be kept as your sole type of snail, feeding on detritus in the substrate if no other snails are available.
Types of Saltwater Snails
Saltwater aquariums are more complicated and offer more diversity in your choice of species. Make sure that you evaluate any species of snail in relation to your particular tank's set up and parameters. These following species are popular additions that are suitable for most saltwater tanks.
This group of snails has a big appetite and prefers to eat hair algae, although they also will consume diatoms, green film, and Cyanobacteria. Hobbyist Joe Jaworski reports that Astrea snails cannot right themselves, and if they fall upside down they will starve and die.
These snails are popular in tanks because they feed on large amounts of algae, particularly hair algae. Margarita snails (Margarites pupillus) are brown and have a smooth twisted shell. According to LiveAquaria.com, these snails grow as large as 1 inch in diameter and are safe to house with corals, other invertebrates, or other tank mates.
Margarita snails prefer somewhat cooler water temperatures, so they are not always a great choice for a tropical reef tank. However, for those keeping a cold saltwater tank at less than 70 degrees, this is a good choice of snail.
Cerith snails are less commonly found in the pet trade, but are gaining in popularity. These snails comprise species from several families, but are all similar in appearance and shape, as reported by Reefkeeping.com. Cerith snails prefer hard substrates and will ingest sand. Their gut filters out the organic debris (bacteria and microalgae) and they excrete the substrate.
These attractive snails are native to the eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean. They are brown with a reticulated pattern over an elongated shell. This family of snails are great scavengers and burrow through the substrate to eat detritus.
Saltwater Snails to Avoid
Many types of snails are predatory and will harm other inhabitants of your aquarium. According to ReefCleaners.org, the following species are predatory or harmful and should be avoided:
- Bumble Bee Snail
- Murex Snails
- Ilynassa obsoleta
- Crown conchs
- Keyhole limpets
- Olive snails
- Babylonian snails
Basic Requirements and Care
For both freshwater and saltwater tanks, your snails require little special care if you are adding them to an established tank. According to Petco's Care Sheet, freshwater snails need the following basic care:
- Stable water quality and temperature
- Algae, plant material, or debris to eat
- Supplement feeding with algae pellets or lettuce
- Keep a tight-fitting lid on the aquarium - several species of snails can escape a tank
- Use hard water when possible - shell growth and maintenance requires calcium
- Maintain water changes as required for fish
- Saltwater snails have similar needs, but you should research any specific species that you would like to keep
Keep Your Aquarium Clean
One of the main reasons why aquarium hobbyists keep snails is to help maintain a clean tank. Different species of snails each have individual feeding habits which determine how they will keep your tank clean. Mike's Guide to Beginner Freshwater Aquariums outlines some of the ways in which snails feed to keep your tank looking pristine. These include:
- Snails that eat algae
- Snails that eat vegetation and live plants
- Snails that eat dead plant matter
- Snails that burrow and aerate your substrate
Snails are not always desired in a tank, as some can be more harmful than helpful, especially to live plants. This depends upon the species of snail and the type of tank that you have. To avoid the accidental introduction of undesirable snails, clean and disinfect any new plants before adding them to your aquarium.
Snails do not necessarily need to be fed beyond what algae is present in your tank. For larger populations of snails relative to the amount of algae, this will be needed if you choose to keep the same population of snails. Carolina Biological Supply Company recommends that you use dechlorinated and conditioned water whenever you perform a water change. If you add lettuce to the tank as a supplemental food source, it should be washed thoroughly.
Make the Best Choice
With a complete knowledge of your aquarium type, water parameters, and other inhabitants, you can make the best choice when selecting which snails to add to your tank. Whether you are looking for an algae-eating species, a scavenger to keep the substrate clean, or merely an attractive and interesting invertebrate, there is certain to be a type of snail to meet your needs.