Many aquarists dread discovering snails living in their fish tank. After all, snails are destructive creatures that eat your plants, right?
Well, that can be the case with species such as pond snails or bubble snails that hitchhike their way into your tank hidden in plants.
However, Mystery snails are not only attractive, but they can be extremely helpful to the hobbyist, too.
How so? Well, in short, Mystery snails eat certain species of algae.
Read this guide to learn how keeping a few Mystery snails can benefit your aquarium.
Do Mystery Snails Eat Algae?
Mystery snails eat certain species of algae. In this part of our guide, we explain more about what these pretty creatures eat and how you care for them.
First of all, let’s find out more about these attractive, helpful snails.
What Is a Mystery snail?
Mystery snails are a species of freshwater gastropod. These snails are a type of Apple snail that’s also known as the Spike-topped Apple snail and has the scientific name, Pomacea bridgesii.
These snails have a lifespan of between one and three years in captivity. The snails originally come from Asia and were bought into California in 1892 for human consumption.
However, these attractive mollusks were gradually introduced into the fish-keeping hobby and have been a popular staple in the hobby ever since.
The Mystery snail is also an invasive species, with large populations living in the wild environment due to aquarists releasing them when numbers became too great for their aquarium.
That’s bad news for indigenous species whose numbers have suffered as a result of the Mystery snail’s proliferation and spread.
How To Identify a Mystery Snail
Mystery snails grow to a size of between 2 and 3 inches, making them ideal for life in a small aquarium of 10 gallons or more.
In fact, many hobbyists use the Mystery snail as a companion for semi-aggressive creatures such as betta fish rather than risking including other fish in the setup.
These snails come in a range of attractive colors, including shades described as blue, gold, magenta, ivory, hazelnut, and black. The snails’ shells can be solid in color, banded, or have a beautiful gradient of color.
Mystery snails have a large, black, or tan-colored “foot” or muscle that enables the snail to move around.
These fascinating creatures have their apex on the side of the aperture, and only adult snails have four whorls.
Viewing and Feeding
The snail’s operculum shields the animal’s opening, preventing would-be predators from attacking the snail’s delicate, vulnerable body parts.
Mystery snails have poor eyesight, relying on highly sensitive tentacles on their heads to find food and negotiate their way around their habitat.
The Mystery snail’s eyes sit above the sensory tentacles on eyestalks, helping the creature to detect movement and light in its environment. Interestingly, if the eyestalks are injured, the snail can regrow the organ in a matter of just a few weeks.
The snail has a secondary pair of tentacles that the creature uses during feeding, and it has a siphon that the animal uses to discharge oxygen to the water’s surface and pass water through its gills.
Are Mystery Snails Algae Eaters?
Mystery snails are primarily herbivores that enjoy a diet of biofilm, detritus, dead plant matter, and most species of algae. However, they will also eat fish flakes, algae wafers, and blanched veggies, including spinach, cucumber, kale, and zucchini.
These industrious little creatures are especially fond of hair algae, which forms a large part of their diet.
Hair algae is a pain once it gets into your aquarium, and it can be a nightmare to get rid of. It is a common menace in home fish tanks, festooning decorations, filter units, the substrate, plants, and even your viewing panels with long, flowing filaments.
If you don’t take steps to control hair algae, it will rapidly take over your tank. Having tried many different removal methods, I eventually invested in a bunch of snails that merrily munched their way through most of the algae in my aquarium.
How Do Mystery Snails Eat Algae?
So, Mystery snails enjoy eating algae. But how do they do it?
These freshwater snails have thousands of tiny, sharp teeth contained in a tongue-like structure called a radula that the creatures use to rip and scrape through colonies of algae attached to your aquarium glass and decorations.
Don’t Overfeed Your Mystery Snails!
One problem with having Mystery snails to keep your tank clean and tidy is that sometimes the snails lose interest in eating algae
As you learned earlier in this piece, Mystery snails will cheerfully chow down on fish food and fresh veggies if offered to them.
That’s great news for the snails since a varied diet is great for keeping them in good health and extending their life expectancy.
However, if you give your Mystery snails too much alternative food, the mollusks won’t eat the algae and detritus in your aquarium, which kind of defeats the object of keeping them.
That’s frustrating since most people have snails purely for their algae-eating capabilities, and if the snails don’t eat the algae, you’ll finish up doing the job yourself.
That said, if you have a large population of snails, you must ensure they don’t run out of algae and starve. In addition, although you want the snails to control the algae in your tank, you need to offer them a high-quality, varied diet to keep your pets healthy.
How Many Snails Do I Need To Control Algae in My Aquarium?
If you have a large number of algae and a dirty aquarium, you’ll need to know how many Mystery snails you’ll need in your aquarium to control the problem.
That depends on the conditions in your tank. In an aquarium that’s overrun with algae, it doesn’t matter how many snails you have; they probably won’t entirely get rid of the nuisance green stuff!
However, if your tank is very clean and you have enough snails, one or two snails will most likely be enough to keep your tank clean and tidy.
How Many Mystery Snails Can I Keep In My Aquarium?
Although Mystery snails are not aggressive toward each other and won’t bother your fish or other invertebrates, you don’t want too many in your tank.
These small snails don’t take up much space, but they still produce waste, and too many snails can play havoc with your filtration system and water quality.
As a general rule of thumb, you don’t want to have more than one or two Mystery snails per 5 gallons of water. That means the snails have plenty of space and don’t produce too much of a bioload for your filter system to handle.
At that ratio, there should also be plenty of food to go around.
Another potential issue with Mystery snails is that they tend to be prolific breeders. So, you can start with one snail and finish up with hundreds!
In addition, Mystery snails can live for up to three years in the aquarium environment, so you could easily finish up with too many.
Unlike some snail species that can reproduce without a mate, you need a male and a female Mystery snail to produce baby snails. So, one effective way of preventing a population explosion is to keep a single-sex population of only male or female snails in your tank.
Boys or Girls?
Here’s how to sex your Mystery snails:
- Choose a place that has good lighting.
- Remove the snail from the water. You can’t harm the snail by taking it out of the water, as snails have a lung and can breathe atmospheric air for short periods. Just don’t keep your snail out of the water for so long that it dries out.
- Hold the snail on its back in a slightly vertical position. The easiest way to do that is to use your finger and thumb to position the snail while you examine it.
- Now, you need to wait. And wait. In fact, your wait could be a long one, and the snail might not oblige at all!
- When the snail eventually emerges from its shell, you can identify its gender by looking at the creature’s right shoulder.
- Female Mystery snails have what appear to be two holes on each shoulder, right underneath the shell.
- Male Mystery snails have a sheath that blocks most of the hole on the creature’s right shoulder.
Once you know what sex your snails are, you can separate them to prevent them from breeding.
Where Can I Buy Mystery Snails?
Mystery snails are readily available to buy from most good pet and fish stores. That said, if you want a particular color or marking, you might have more luck searching online.
These snails typically sell for around $3 each.
Did you enjoy our guide to keeping Mystery snails to rid your aquarium of algae? If you found the information helpful, please take a minute to share the article!
Mystery snails are popular with aquarists because these attractive little gastropods are well-known for their ability to prevent the growth of algae by eating it.
If you have a few of these hard-working little creatures in your aquarium, you can be sure that they will help to keep your tank clean by grazing on tough algae and eating dead plants, detritus, and leftover fish food, too.
Do you have snails in your fish tank? Tell us in the comments box below.