Care of Ornamental Snails
Ornamental Snails in the Aquarium
(The First Tank Guide)
Why Keep Ornamental Snails in an Aquarium?
Many people like to keep ornamental snails in their aquaria because snails are interesting critters to keep, and many people believe the common misconception that snails will keep your aquarium clean.
Aren't Snails Beneficial?
Snails are not inherently beneficial to an aquarium.
Each snail is another organism in the tank, which means more waste, increased oxygen consumption, more food consumed, greater burden on the filter, etc. Each snail will reduce the capacity of your fish tank for fish in accordance with the size of the snail. This means fewer fish in the aquarium. This is not inherently bad, it is just something you need to be aware of when determining the population of your aquarium.
Snails are also very messy animals, producing a much larger volume of solid waste than a similar volume of fish in the tank. Far from keeping your aquarium clean, adding snails to your fish tank will more likely make the tank appear messier.
Additionally, snails will usually be disastrous in a planted aquarium. Large snails will voraciously eat your plants, and smaller 'pest' snails are usually in such numbers that they will have similar effect.
What If I Want Snails in My Fish Tank?
If you decide to keep ornamental snails in your aquarium, here is some information to help you care for them.
Snails are very tolerant of water conditions, thriving in a very wide range of hardness and pH, though extremely soft water can slowly dissolve the snail's shell, resulting in a thin and brittle shell that will not protect the snail as well.
Despite the snail's tolerance for a wide range of conditions, even trace amounts of copper in the water can be toxic to snails, and many varieties of snails are very sensitive to sulfur. Since sulfur and copper are used in a wide variety of medications, it is wise to check the labels of any medication or treatment before using it to determine whether it contains these elements or is identified as being harmful to invertebrates such as your snails.
What If My Snail Appears Dead?
Most of the varieties of ornamental snails available in pet stores have the ability to hibernate for long periods of time - sometimes over a year! If your snail does not move for several days, it is a good idea to check on it to see if it has passed away or not. If the door to the snail's shell is intact, and the snail does not fall out of the shell upon being moved, it is likely that the snail is fine, and it should not be removed, however, if the door is missing, or if the snail (or other debris) falls out of the shell when it is moved, or if there is an odor from the snail, it should be removed and disposed of.
What About Breeding Fancy Snails?
Though the common pond snails will breed prolifically and their population will quickly overrun your tank, ornamental snails are usually less prolific and more specific about water conditions for breeding. Most ornamental snails lay their eggs above the water line in large fluorescent green, yellow, or orange sacks, and then when the eggs hatch, the babies fall into the water. However, some snails are 'live bearers' - either laying the eggs on the inside of their own shells or not releasing their eggs until they hatch. While pond snails and other pest snails tend to be hermaphroditic (after mating both individuals can lay eggs), most ornamental snails not, so in order to breed them, you will need both males and females. If you are interested in breeding snails, you should probably look into getting a book on snail keeping.
Tank Mates for Ornamental Aquarium Snails
If you are keeping ornamental snails, there are some varieties of fish that eat snails, and these should be avoided, lest your prize snail become some fish's buffet. These fish include freshwater puffers (most of which are actually brackish water fish and need a little salt in their water and are typically very aggressive), some cichlids, and most Botia.
Remember, ornamental snails, though not necessary for a successful aquarium, can be very interesting and entertaining. They are easy to care for, and not as prolific as their pesky cousins, the pond snails, but are still sensitive to some medications.