When setting up and stocking your fish tank, you’re probably thinking of fish, right? Certainly not snails. Snails are pests. Or are they? The humble freshwater snail has been gaining popularity, and for good reason. There are some fascinating (and beautiful) species out there. Snails will even scrape algae off your tank walls, eat leftover fish food, and help you get rid of dead plant matter. Even so-called “pest” snails can have their place in your aquarium as long as they’re managed correctly.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about keeping freshwater aquarium snails and the various species most commonly available for your fish tank.
Psst! Did you come here looking for tips on dealing with a pest snail infestation? You might want to head over to the article on removing freshwater aquarium snails instead.
Are snails good for your aquarium?
Wondering why you might want to include some snails in aquarium planning? They can actually be quite useful and even beautiful. Here are some things these freshwater snails can offer your tank:
- Algae eating. Most freshwater snails will see an algae-covered aquarium pane as the place to be. They happily eat green algae and hair algae, leaving a patterned trail where they have scraped off the gunk with their radula. Although most species won’t fully make your tank clean, they definitely help.
- Cleaning crew. Freshwater snails will pretty much consume anything edible they come across. This includes dead plant matter, leftover fish food, and even deceased tankmates that could quickly affect your water parameters. It’s a nasty job, but someone’s gotta do it! And it could save you from doing a few emergency water changes!
- Substrate aeration. Some freshwater snail species love to burrow. While they may uproot a plant or two in the process, this can actually be helpful. By digging through the substrate, the snails loosen and aerate it, which helps prevent anaerobic spots and makes it easier for plant roots to grow. Malaysian trumpet snails are especially useful for this.
- Add some life & color. Many might think of snails as boring, but aquarium snails can actually be fascinating to watch as they perform their cleaning duties. As an added bonus, some species have beautiful colors and patterns as well as unique shell shapes. There’s an aquarium snail for everyone!
Do keep in mind that although aquarium snails are useful additions to your cleaning crew, they can have a relatively high bioload and affect water parameters. Be careful not to overstock. Additionally, check beforehand whether the specific snails you’re interested in like to eat live plants. Most don’t but some might, especially if food is not widely available if there are no fish in the tank.
Common freshwater snails
Black devil snail (Faunus ater)
Although they look pretty similar to Tylomelania snails, black devil snails are actually an entirely different species. As you could probably guess from the name, this snail’s body is entirely black. In most cases, their long point shell is also black, but there are some exceptions. Faunus ater “cappuccino”, for example, features a gradient shell that transitions from black to white.
If you’re interested in keeping these freshwater snails you won’t need a very large aquarium. They don’t get nearly as big as mystery snails or Japanese trapdoor snails, so 10 gallons (38 L) and up should work just fine. A sand substrate will be appreciated, as these snails love to dig. Interestingly, you can also keep this species in a tank with brackish water!
All in all, if you’re looking for an active snail with a spectacular shell, Faunus ater is a great choice. Don’t worry about keeping multiple snails in the same fish tank; there is not much known about breeding them yet and it doesn’t seem to happen very often in the home aquarium. No risk of a freshwater snail explosion here!
You can find a full Faunus ater care sheet on Aquariadise here!
Rabbit snail (Tylomelania sp.)
Freshwater snails from the genus Tylomelania are also known as rabbit snails or Poso snails. Originally native to the lakes of Sulawesi, Indonesia, rabbit snails come in many varieties. However, they all have a long, pointy shell and slightly elephant-like head. Although their natural habitat varies, most of these snails need pretty similar care.
To keep your rabbit snails happy, be sure to buy a group of at least three. Minimum tank size varies between species; 5 gallons should be enough for the smallest, while the largest grow to up to 4.7 inches (12 cm) and need a lot more water volume. Keep pH levels high (at least 7.5) and make sure the water isn’t too soft.
Diet-wise, provide plenty of leaf litter and supplement this with invertebrate pellets (shrimp foods should work well). If you’re lucky, well-fed and healthy rabbit snails might produce offspring. There is no need to worry about overpopulation, though; only one baby snail is born at a time and it takes a long time to develop in the mother snail’s pouch.
Golden rabbit snails are probably the most popular Tylomelania variety. There are many more, though – my personal favorite is the appropriately named chocolate rabbit snail, which you can find here.
Red racer nerite snail (Vittina waigiensis)
Looking for a flashy snail? Although there are many nerite snail varieties out there, each more beautifully patterned than the next, this one takes the cake. Red racer nerite snails lend their name from their “racing stripe” pattern. They range in color from yellow to a dark red, making them real eyecatchers in any tank.
Nerite snails are appreciated by aquarists for their algae-eating skills (they’re among the 5 best aquarium algae eaters!). Red racer nerite snails are no exception. A group of these freshwater snails can scrape your aquarium clean within days, making your fish tank maintenance a little easier.
Because their eggs need brackish water to hatch, you don’t have to worry about an infestation of nerite snails. This does come with the downside that the sticky white eggs remain in the tank indefinitely – and they can be quite difficult to remove. Keeping a razor blade around for scraping purposes might be helpful.
Mystery snail (Pomacea bridgesii)
Okay, so: mystery snails are a type of apple snail, which is a common name for the Pomacea genus. Some apple snails are banned in parts of the world, but mystery snails aren’t. They don’t grow as large as some of their other apple snail cousins and don’t have the same appetite for plants.
Mystery snails, better known as Pomacea bridgesii, are a relatively large and quite popular aquarium snail species. They are appreciated by aquarists for the various selectively bred colors that are available today. You can find these in solid brown, but there are also yellow, ivory, blue, and even purple mystery snails.
Due to their size of about 2 inches (5cm) mystery snails aren’t suitable for nano aquariums. They produce a lot of waste which can quickly cause water quality issues in small set-ups, so avoid them if your water volume is less than 15 gallons (57 L).
To keep your mystery snail happy and healthy, keep the pH slightly basic and the water hard in your fish tank. Feed calcium-rich invertebrate foods and supplement with plenty of fresh veggies, like kale and spinach. Try not to skip any feedings; these freshwater snails aren’t afraid to take a bite out of your plants if they get hungry. Well-fed and healthy mystery snails will lay clutches of eggs just above the waterline, which should hatch after a maximum of around four weeks if left in the tank.
Japanese trapdoor snail (Viviparus genus)
The Japanese trapdoor snail, also sometimes referred to as the Chinese mystery snail, is a large snail species popular among pond keepers for its algae eating capabilities. Luckily for us aquarists, this species can also be kept indoors as long as your set-up is large enough. As with mystery snails, a tank of at least 15 gallons (57 L) is probably a good minimum to avoid water quality issues.
If you keep Japanese trapdoor snails you’ll often see them cruising around the fish tank sifting through leftovers and other debris for hours on end. They are great scavengers as well as algae eaters that can really help get rid of all sorts of gunk and leftover fish food. This means a very clean aquarium isn’t an ideal place for them unless you offer plenty of supplemental food; the more debris, the better! Some leaf litter will also probably be greatly appreciated by these freshwater snails.
Like Tylomelania snails, Japanese trapdoor snails don’t lay eggs. They are livebearers that do reproduce in the aquarium as long as they’re happy and healthy. Overcrowding probably won’t be too much of an issue, though, and you can always ask whether your local fish store is interested in taking a few snails off your hands. After all, they’re quite decorative and a fascinating species to keep!
You can buy Japanese trapdoor snails online here.
“Pest” freshwater snails
Although they are referred to as pest snails here, the species below aren’t bad. Actually, they’re pretty good. They help clean up debris and leftover fish food, add life to your tank and aerate the substrate. These snails just breed very quickly, which means it can be a challenge to keep the population under control. If you don’t mind having lots of snails there is no real reason to avoid them.
- Looking for a way to get rid of pest snails? This article might help.
- Looking to breed as many pest snails as possible to feed snail-eating fish or inverts? Have a look at the snail breeding guide.
Malaysian trumpet snail (Melanoides tuberculata)
Malaysian trumpet snails are small and can be recognized by their hard, pointy shells. In many cases, this species only comes out at night, so you might not even know it has hitchhiked into your tank and started multiplying until you have looked after turning out the lights. If you don’t have many other fish in the tank and keep snail populations in check, 5 gallons is the minimum recommended tank size.
Malaysian trumpet snails reproduce very quickly and can really overrun your tank, especially if you don’t notice them due to their nocturnal nature. There are some pros to keeping them, though. Because this species loves to burrow, a colony can help keep your substrate light and aerated. This is helpful in preventing anaerobic pockets from forming and makes it easier for plant roots to grow.
Malaysian trumpet snails are not generally appreciated by fish that eat snails. If you keep puffers, they can be downright dangerous: their hard shells can crack the puffer’s teeth. So if you happen to be looking for freshwater snails as a food source for your fish, try one of the other three species discussed below.
Want to start your own Malaysian trumpet snail colony? You can buy these snails online here.
Pond snail (Lymnaea genus)
Pond snails from the genus Lymnaea can be an amusing addition to your aquarium. They are fun to watch and useful when it comes to eating debris, but there is one issue about them that many aquarists struggle with: they multiply incredibly quickly and can easily overrun a tank if the conditions are right.
Because they breed so fast, it is usually recommended to skip this species and go for one that is less of a “nuisance” instead. Unfortunately, these snails can still end up in your fish tank even if you’re trying to avoid them. If your pet/fish store has an infestation going on, they might end up on plants that you’ve bought and enter your tank that way. One pond snail is enough to cause troubles as they reproduce asexually.
Love ’em or hate ’em, pond snails can have their place in your tank. If you’re looking for a species to breed as food for pufferfish or assassin snails, they are a great option.
Ramshorn snail (Planorbis genus)
Ramshorn snails are also quick breeders that can cause issues if they’re left to reproduce freely in your tank. However, they’re not as “universally hated” as pond snails. Some aquarists do purposely breed them, as they come in several attractive colors like light pink and light blue.
Ramshorn is the general name for snails of the Planorbis genus and there is quite a variety of ramshorns out there. The tiniest variety doesn’t grow much larger than a pinhead, while others get quite large. The tiny variety is probably the most common pest ramshorn, while larger specimens are often kept as pets.
Whether they’re pests or pets, these freshwater snails make themselves useful by eating leftover foods, decaying plants, and even some algae. Want to start your own colony in your fish tank? You can buy ramshorn snails online here.
Bladder snail (Physella genus)
Bladder snails from the Physella genus look somewhat like pond snails but are much smaller. They are usually not for sale in your local fish store but end up in a tank accidentally. As with other pest snails, this can become problematic when there is plenty of food for them and they start reproducing rapidly.
If you want to avoid these freshwater snails from entering your fish tank, be sure to put any new plants in “quarantine” before adding them to your tank. A bleach dip might prove helpful, especially for strong plants that can handle a bit of a beating. Just mix 1 part bleach with 8 parts water and give the plants a good dip to kill any snails and eggs that might be on there.