Aquarium snails might seem charming at first. But when one becomes two and two becomes a hundred…Suddenly, you have a problem on your hands. How do we get rid of snails in a fish tank?
Prevention is the best medicine for keeping snails away. Bleach dipping your plants and searching for adults is where you begin. If you already have snails, you can introduce fish that eat them.
Hand removal and snail traps are also helpful in managing their numbers. But if you want to eliminate snails then you’ll need to use a copper-based chemical remedy.
Each of these solutions comes with specific pros and cons I’ll be detailing in this article! And if you’re more of a visual learner, this video breaks down much of what I discuss here:
How To Get Rid Of Snails In A Fish Tank – Most Effective Methods
Pest snails are something most of us in the aquarium hobby have to deal with, sooner or later. Fortunately, there are many ways you can get rid of them!
Remove Snails In Your Tank By Hand
The simplest way to get rid of pest snails is to remove then by hand. If your snail infestation is light then you may be able to stop it in its tracks.
Manual removal is also suitable if you don’t want to eliminate your snails. Many aquarists just want to keep their numbers in check. But still find their ability to eat algae and leftover food useful.
Hand removal is just what it sounds like: reaching in and plucking snails from the tank. Larger tanks are more work, especially if the infestation is heavy. Snail eggs are also difficult to keep under control since they are gelatinous and hard to see.
Hand removal is easiest when you have to deal with larger species of snails. But small snails are difficult to eliminate entirely. They can get lost among grains of gravel, especially baby trumpet snails.
Snail traps are very effective in capturing baby pest snails and smaller adult snails. These traps work using bait and a mushroom-shaped piece of plastic. The snails cluster around the trap but are unable to directly access the bait.
Once enough snails are covering the snail trap you can lift it out of the water using a piece of string tied to it. Snail traps are reusable and are best baited at night. Snails are more active in the dark. But you can still bait them during the day to maximize your number of snails caught!
Chemical Treatments For Snails
Chemicals are one of the easiest and most effective ways to kill snails and snail eggs. These are usually copper-based agents like copper sulfate. The metal is toxic to most animals but invertebrates tend to be highly sensitive to it.
Copper chemicals are sold as deworming and antiparastite remedies for fish. They usually have warnings on the label not to use them in aquariums with shrimp or snails. Making them effective tools to kill snails.
Cupramine is a Seachem product that is most often used to dose aquarium water with. It is also a handy remedy for ich, gill flukes, and other external parasites.
When using chemicals to kill snails make sure you monitor your water quality 2 or 3 times per day. When snails die they decay into ammonia rapidly. If you have a huge number of snails, that translates into a deadly ammonia pulse. Which can sicken or kill your aquarium fish.
Do water changes as needed. And re-dose the tank with Cupramine to maintain copper sulfate levels until all of your snails are dead.
Once your snails are gone, do more water changes to gradually flush the copper sulfate out of the tank. Copper is less toxic to fish than it is to snails. But it’s still not great for their health.
Keep Non-Pest Snails
If you simply must have snails then try keeping species that won’t reproduce wildly. Bladder, trumpet, and ramshorn snails are the worst offenders.
Most aquarium snails don’t rapidly reproduce and are easy to manage. Some of the most interesting include rabbit snails (genus Tylomelania), nerite snails (genus Neritina), and mystery snails (Pomacea bridgesii).
Nerite snails lay many eggs – but they won’t hatch. These snail eggs require brackish or saltwater to develop properly. In freshwater tanks the eggs won’t result in more snails.
Nerite snails are also fantastic algae eaters; even better than most aquarium snails. They will even eat black beard algae (though they much prefer green algae).
Rabbit snails lay just one or two eggs per breeding cycle. The eggs are large and look like pearls. Making them easy to find and remove if you don’t want more.
Rabbit snails get their name from their vegetarian tendencies. Meaning they will nibble live plants if there isn’t enough algae around.
They also love to burrow, which can disrupt rooted plants. But if you keep them distract them with a weekly lettuce leaf rabbit snails will leave your favorite live plants alone!
Mystery snails do lay large egg masses. But the eggs are laid out of the water along the lip of your fish tank. They are easy to scrape away and collect if you don’t want more baby snails!
What Are Pest Snails In Fish Tanks?
There are dozens of snail species that find their way into the aquarium trade. Most will reproduce in your tank. But their egg masses are large enough to remove when found. Some only have one or two babies at a time. Or they may not reproduce at all in home aquariums.
There are three species of snail that most often become pests. They breed fast and some don’t even need a mate. Worse, all three are small enough to get into your tank without being noticed.
Bladder snails move quickly for such little snails. They glide along every surface in the tank, hunting for algae and leftover food. They get their name from their ability to hold air inside of their shells.
This air bladder makes them buoyant enough to float. Bladder snails then expel air to drop back to the bottom as needed.
- Scientific Name: Physella acuta
- Origin: North America & Europe
Ramshorn snails might be the most common source of a snail infestation. They come in a number of colors, including black and red. Ramshorn snails get their name from the shape of their shells, which looks like a curved ram’s horn.
Ramshorn snail eggs are the way they make it into most tanks. Even if you add just a single snail, you can end up with too many snails in just a few weeks. They reproduce both sexually and asexually. One snail can create clones of itself, ensuring any uneaten fish food gets put to use.
- Scientific Name: family Planorbidae
- Origin: Worldwide
Malaysian Trumpet Snail
Malaysian trumpet snails have a pretty spiral shell that encourages new fish keepers to take them home. But once you have them, it can be hard to keep a snail infestation from happening.
It’s very difficult to control a trumpet snail population because they don’t leave snail eggs around for you to find. Malaysian trumpet snails are livebearers. Each female can have up to 70 babies.
They are the size of a sand grain when born. Removing snails in your tank by hand is impossible when they are that small.
- Scientific Name: Melanoides tuberculata
- Origin: Southeast Asia & Northern Africa
Where Do Pest Snails Come From?
Snails can arrive almost if by magic. It is baffling if you didn’t intend on buying any snails. So where do they come from?
Attached To Live Plants
The most common way snails find their way into a new tank is accidentally. Live plants are farmed in huge ponds in most countries. The steady supply of detritus and fish-free water makes them a haven for pest snails.
Adult snails and snail eggs hitch a ride on plants purchased by aquarists. Full grown snails can be spotted with a bit of care. But snail eggs are difficult to see in most species. Once you have a few bladder or ramshorn snails, it won’t take long for them to reproduce.
Many aquarists also buy snails intentionally. Snails are interesting in their own right. They aren’t directly harmful to fish and actually do a lot of good for aquariums. Snails are inexpensive and require no real care. Making them ideal invertebrates for beginners.
Most pet store employees will warn buyers that snails can grow out of control. But it takes seeing a snail infestation with your own eyes to truly understand.
Even if you then take steps to reduce their numbers, it may not last. A single ramshorn snail egg can regrow your entire snail population in a few short weeks. Once you have snails it’s hard to be rid of them forever.
Pros And Cons Of Snails In A Fish Tank
Pest snails can be a big problem if they get out of control. But snails aren’t all bad. Here are a few of the benefits they offer aquarists!
Pros Of Snails In Your Tank
- Eat Uneaten Fish Food: aquarium snails can be a major part of your freshwater clean-up crew. They do an excellent job at sniffing our leftover fish food before it can decay into nitrogenous waste. Snails don’t eat fish poop, though. So they won’t free you from the job of doing regular water changes.
- Algae Control: biofilm and algae are on the menu for most snails. White algae and green algae are their favorite types. Snails won’t eat brown algae or black beard algae, however.
- Interesting To Watch: snails are interesting animals in their own right. Which is why most people decide to add them to their tank. They add diversity to the tank and are often the first invertebrates that new aquarists try keeping.
Cons Of Snails In Your Tank
Snails and snail eggs do have some pros. But the cons are well worth considering…
- Visually Unappealing: snails in your tank can look untidy when you have dozens or hundreds at a time. They will cover all surfaces of your fish tank on their endless search for food. Heavy infestations may make it difficult to even see inside of the aquarium!
- May Eat Plants: snails prefer eating algae and decaying plant matter. But a few snails do have a taste for soft aquarium plants like cabomba and anacharis. Most snails won’t eat plants unless they run out of detritus. But if they do turn to your plants a large number of aquarium snails can eat them down to nothing.
- Can Foul Water When Dead: dead snails in your tank are a big problem. Especially if you use one of the control methods outlined in this guide and have mass die-off. Snails decay quickly into ammonia. Which is very toxic to fish and invertebrates.
- Difficult To Get Rid Of Snails: you may enjoy a few ramshorn or bladder snails at first. They are cheap, or even free. Plus they require no feeding since they eat leftovers and algae. But if you decide in the future you want to be rid of them…Well, that is a lot more difficult to do. Once you have snails in your tank you might be stuck with them.
Fish That Eat Snails In A Fish Tank
One way to help reduce your snail population is to add snail predators. Most of these are easy to find aquarium fish. But a few invertebrates also have a taste for fresh snails!
Puffer fish are some of the most dedicated predator fish you can choose to get rid of snails. The entire family specializes in eating invertebrates. So any shrimp, crayfish, or crabs you have won’t be safe.
Puffer fish are best for community tanks with fast moving or aggressive fish. Puffers love to bite. And the fins of their tank mates are some of their favorite targets. Even the smallest species, like the pea puffer (Carinotetraodon travancoricus) are aggressive, territorial fish.
Puffer fish actually need snails and other hard shelled prey to eat. Their teeth are fused into a hard beak that grows continuously. Without shells to wear their teeth down, puffer fish can need corrective surgery.
A group of pea puffers or a single larger puffer can eliminate snails in your tank by themselves. They only target snails in the open or on tank walls, though. Puffers don’t dig very well.
Loaches, on the other hand, are excellent digging fish. Clown loaches (Chromobotia macracantha) are one of the larger species of snail eating fish. Yet they are peaceful community tank fish that will coexist even with much smaller fish.
Zebra loaches, dwarf chain loaches, and other small to medium sized species will also eat all the snails you offer them.
Kuhli loaches are sometimes included in lists of snail eating fish. But they aren’t as talented at eating them; baby snails in your tank are on their menu. But adult snails may be too large for a kuhli loach to handle.
Common goldfish (Carassius auratus) are omnivorous fish that feed along the bottom of your fish tank. Notice how they take in big mouthfuls of gravel when they are hungry. Goldfish are hunting for hidden treats like algae, fish eggs, worms, and snails.
Goldfish and other cyprinid fish (barbs, rasboras, danios, koi) even have specialized pharyngeal teeth for cracking snail shells! They swallow the snail whole and then chew them in the throat.
Since so many snails are smaller, a medium sized goldfish will have no trouble eating your snail problem. Koi will eat snails in outdoor ponds. They grow large enough to even eat pond snails and apple snails.
Assassin snails (or killer snails) are common to find these days in pet stores. They get their name from their appetite for other snails. Even though assassin snails are small they hunt down and gang up on aquarium pest snails.
Once you no longer have too many snails, you don’t need to worry about assassin snails taking over instead. These snails reproduce very slowly. So controlling them is easy to do.
Assassin snails are carnivorous and don’t eat algae or plants. So once your pest snails are all dead, you’ll need to feed them. They will eat leftover flake food as well. But small pieces of shrimp, fish, and other meat are what they prefer!
How To Get Rid Of Snail Eggs In An Aquarium
We’ve discussed how to control snails. But what about snail eggs? Prevention is the best strategy here. Any new plants should be looked over with care as these are the primary source of snail eggs.
The egg masses are translucent and often get deposited under plant leaves. Jelly-like clutches along the stem are also typical.
The best way to quickly disinfect new plants that may have snail eggs is to use a bleach dip. Soak your plants in a solution of 5% bleach ( ¾ cups per gallon of water) for 2 to 3 minutes.
Then remove the live plants into a bucket of aquarium water. Add a liberal dose of tap water dechlorinator, which works on bleach as well as chlorine! Rinse the plants thoroughly for a few minutes and then add them to your tank as normal.
Pest snail explosions are tricky to deal with. If you want to get rid of snails in a fish tank, then hand removal, snail traps, or introducing predators is the best way. But eliminating snails in a fish tank is harder to achieve.
Chemical methods are very good at ending your snail population. Just be ready to deal with the ammonia and nitrite spike that follows.
And in the meantime, try to enjoy the positives that snails off your fish tank. As detritivores and algae eaters, they help keep your system in balance. Through waste removal snails improve fish and plant health!
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