Snails can make a helpful aquarium cleaning crew and some are very interesting to watch. However, this unfortunately does not apply to all aquatic snail varieties. We all know the scenario; it starts with a single tiny snail that hitchhiked into your tank somehow, and suddenly there are hundreds of them! Oops.
How did that happen, and more importantly, how do you get rid of them? A snail infestation can be difficult to deal with, but there are definitely things you can do to prevent and end them.
Controlling a snail problem
Once you start noticing snails in your aquarium that you do not want there, it’s usually already too late. ‘Pest’ snails like Malaysian trumpet snails, pond snails and ramshorn snails multiply incredibly quickly and the tank is likely already covered in more eggs that will hatch soon. So what can you do?
- Feed less, clean more. One of the reasons the snails can multiply so quickly in your aquarium is that there is plenty of food for them. Cutting back feedings and regularly siphoning out any uneaten food and other waste can reduce the number of snails to something that is manageable.
- Trap the snails. There are multiple ways to do this. You can buy a snail trap, though opinions on whether these are actually effective are divided. The simplest is to put some food, like lettuce or cucumber, in the tank, preferably when the light is off. The snails will flock to the food in huge numbers, and after waiting a while you’ll be able to simply lift the food (with snails attached) out of the water. If you do this every once in a while, you’ll be able to keep the snail population under control. You won’t wipe out all of them, but that’s not necessary! Snails eat algae and detritus and are actually helpful in smaller numbers.
- Assassin snails. These do exactly what the name suggests; they find other snails and literally assassinate them. A small group can really help keeping your snail population under control without harming their other tankmates. This is the only living animal I would suggest to keep your snail problem under control. There is a full assassin snail caresheet on Aquariadise and you can buy assassin snails (Clea helena, also sometimes still referred to as Anentome helena) online here.
How to prevent a snail infestation
While there are several ways to control the snail population, like the trapping method listed above, there is only one way to completely eliminate the chances of your aquarium becoming overrun: preventing the snails from ever entering it.
Snails don’t appear in an aquarium out of nowhere. They hitch a ride on plants, rocks, equipment and filter material. A single snail can be enough to cause issues as they are, unfortunately for us, able to reproduce without a mate. To prevent that single snail from ever entering your tank, thoroughly clean anything that comes from another setup. Hardier plant types can be bleach dipped with diluted bleach (1:8 to 1:10); more fragile plants can be quarantined so any snails that may be on it show themselves. Rocks and equipment should be cleaned or dried out before you put them into the tank.
What you should not do
Fish species like puffer fish, yoyo loaches and clown loaches are specialized snail eaters. They can wipe out an entire snail infestation within a very short time, and they are available in most pet- and aquarium stores. Sounds like a great idea, right? Unfortunately, it’s not. You should never buy a fish for the sole purpose of fixing a snail problem.
- What are you going to do with the fish once the snails are gone? Puffer fish will gladly turn to nibbling on their own tankmates once their initial food source runs out.
- Is the fish compatible with the other species in your tank? Most likely not. Puffer fish are very aggressive and clown loaches are group fish that become territorial once they get older. Yoyo loaches, on the other hand, are very peaceful and should only be kept with other calm species.
- Is your setup suitable for the fish? Again, most likely not. Many puffer species grow quite large and need very specific care, and clown loaches can reach a length of 12 inches (30cm)! Unless you have a very big aquarium, that is not going to fit. Yoyo loaches stay smaller but need a calm setup with soft, acidic water and plenty of hiding places to prevent stress.
If a snail-eating fish species fits into your community, great. However, don’t rely on them to fix a snail problem. The only one who can effectively get rid of the snails in your aquarium is you. There are various options to do so; stick to those instead of buying these snail eaters. They will cause you much more trouble than the snails in most situations.
If you’re interested in keeping snails but don’t want your tank to become overrun, check out Aquarium snails you do want in your tank! There are several beautiful species that won’t cause any problems.
If you have any more tips or questions on how to get rid of snails, leave a comment. Happy snailfighting/-keeping!