Pest Snails and Controlling Snail Populations
Dealing with an Aquarium Overrun with Nuisance Snails
(The First Tank Guide)
Pest snails are common in aquariums. These small animals may seem cute and innocent at first, however they can reproduce with such vigor that they can quickly overpopulate a tank, causing all the problems that having too many fish in the tank will cause. Additionally, as the snails reproduce, the young need to eat, and they can decimate a population of live plants, starting with those that are the choicest foods to snails.
Pest Snails Getting Into Your Aquarium
So, how did these unwanted snails get in your tank? The most common source for pest snails in the aquarium is live plants. The live plants available in the pet trade are often raised in outdoor ponds in warmer parts of the U.S. or in southeast Asia. These outdoor ponds are home to many varieties of snails, but also home to their natural predators including varieties of all different kinds of animals. However, these snails lay their eggs on the plants, then when the plants are harvested and shipped to wholesalers and then on to pet stores, the snail eggs come along. It is also possible to get snail eggs from decorations (or other equipment) that have been used in an infected aquarium and are then transferred to your tank. Snails can also occasionally be transferred with fish if a snail is accidentally caught in the net with a fish and transferred to the bag, then "rescued" from the bag when you get the fish home. Occasionally, wild snails will be caught in nearby streams, ditches, or other waterways and deliberately transferred to the tank.
Controlling Pest Snails in Your Aquarium
Now that you have them, how can you get rid of these pest snails? Here are some steps for trying to remove snails from your tank:
- Spend a little time every day, once you first find the snails, trying to find a few more and pull them out. If you crush their shells, many fish will will swarm over to eat the dead snail, or you can just throw them away.
- Copper additives can also reduce the snail population, as copper is toxic to most invertebrates. Some people will add pennies to their aquarium to increase copper levels, however this can be dangerous to your fish since you do not know what might be on a penny...
- Snail eating fish can also be helpful. Freshwater puffers (most of which are actually brackish water fish and need a little salt in their water and are typically very aggressive) will eat snails, as will some cichlids, and most Botia. The Clown Loach, Yo-Yo Loach, Dwarf Checkered loach, Skunk Botia and the Bengal Loach are all Botia that will usually do all right in a community tank and eat snails. Remember, when adding a fish to the tank to help with a problem like this, that the new fish does contribute to the tank population.
- You can remove the snails in larger groups by tempting them with food. After the lights go off for the night, and the tank is dark, place a saucer on the gravel at the bottom of the tank, place a piece of sinking fish food on the saucer and leave for about 25 minutes. When you come back there will probably be several snails on the saucer and they can be easily removed with the saucer and food. You can similarly use lettuce, spinach, scallions (green onions) or other fresh vegetables to do this, if you have a way to anchor the vegetables in the tank.
If you perform several of these tasks with diligence, you should be able to easily keep your snail population under control, if not eventually eliminating it. Remember, none of these will get rid of all of your snails in short order, but over time, they should become much less of a nuisance.