You will agree that snails have their uses in an aquarium. However, excess snails in your tank can mess with its ecosystem and make your fish sick.
Snail-eating fish is the best way to take care of the "slimy" situation in your tank, and they also double as pets that beautify your home.
Instead of the excruciating task of removing them one-by-one, why not let nature take care of itself without stressing yourself. This is by far the best way to handle snails infesting your tank.
This guide is going to cover everything you need to know about dealing with snails in the tank. You'll learn where they come from, why they're a danger, how to prevent them, and fishes that can help you to keep them in check.
So, let's dive in, shall we?
Why Do You Need Fish to Eat Snails?
Some snails serve as great pets that you can add to your aquarium tank to give it a little variety. But others such as ram horn snails, trumpet snails, and pond snails can reproduce fast and completely take over the tank.
In only a week, they could spread from one to a dozen, and before you can even get a handle on the situation, your tank is filled with them.
Where Do They Come From?
Many people who have a snail infestation problem don't remember putting any snails in their tank, so where did they come from?
Snails usually enter the tank through the plants you put in. They could already be grown or could be packets of eggs on the plant.
They could also enter tanks through the fish you buy from stores. Snails can get scooped while the storekeeper nets the fish into the transport bag. And you will unintentionally introduce them to your tank.
It gets worse:
All it takes is one snail or a couple of eggs for you to have a large snail population in your tank. And they will keep spreading at an exponential rate.
How Do They Multiply?
Snails don't need a mate to reproduce, and only one of them can start a whole colony in your tank. A snail will fertilize its eggs and, in a few weeks, become a single parent. Some snail species spend a long time under the substrate and only come out at night to look for a meal.
So, you may be seeing only one snail on the glass, but many more could be hidden under the gravel in your tank. Imagine each one of these snails reproducing by themselves. In no time, it could get out of hand, and your entire tank will be filled with snails.
The Dangers of a Snail Infestation
More snails will increase the biological load on your tank. Regardless of your aquarium’s size, the more living creatures in it, the harder it is to maintain the conditions.
While snails will help clean up the tank a little by eating algae, decaying plant matter, and leftover food, they still produce a lot of waste.
This could mess with the tank’s balance, especially if it is already overrun. The effects on the ecosystem could be disastrous.
Your filtration system will have to work overtime to keep up with the increasing demands of the tank. It will also be harder to keep the nitrate and ammonia levels at par, which could have serious consequences on your fishes’ wellbeing.
Tips on Choosing Snail-Eating Fish
A lot of fishes eat snails, but you can’t pick just anyone for your tank. It needs to be a fish that can fit into the ecosystem of the aquarium. Some of the steps to take when choosing one are:
- The fish should be compatible with other tank mates and live in the water conditions of your aquarium.
- You must be ready to keep the fish for a while, not just to keep for the snail problem and then abandoning or removing the fish.
- Be prepared for the fish to decide not to eat the snails. That is always a possibility as they could see other food they prefer.
Top 5 Fishes that Eat Snails
Here are some great fishes you can put in your tank to help get your snail infestation problem under control.
Clown loach, also known as tiger loach, is a popular fish from the Botia family. It is generally a peaceful fish that can co-exist peacefully with other fishes in a community tank. It will be a great addition to your tropical tank, and they’re well known for eating snails.
These fishes are scavengers and will eat almost any food they see, so they’ll be happy to eat up any snails causing a menace in your tank. Clown loach grows to 12 inches and would be best in 77 - 86oF and pH of 5 - 8.
Here’s the deal:
They grow quite big, and some people might not have the space for them in their tank, considering that they have to be kept in groups of at least 6. Their size also means they’ll need other food sources as they cannot depend solely on snails for nutrition.
If the clown loach is too big for your tank, yoyo loaches are a great alternative. Yoyo loaches are also known as Pakistani loach or Almora loach and are freshwater fish from the botia family. They grow to only half the size of clown loaches, making them a better option for community tanks, and they also love to eat snails.
Yoyo loaches are bottom-dwelling, and they love digging in the sand, so they will find snails to eat. This makes them very effective at finding snails wherever they’re hiding and eat them up. They grow to about 2.5 inches, and you’ll need at least 40 gallons to keep them. The water conditions should have a temperature of 75 – 80oF and a pH of 6.0 – 7.0 for them to thrive.
But, here’s the kicker:
You’ll have to feed them sinking pellets for nutrition as they won’t be satisfied eating only snails from the tank.
Many people would be surprised to find out bettas can eat snails – under the right circumstances. Bettas are generally opportunistic feeders in the wild and wouldn’t pass up the chance to eat snails if it came to it.
Bettas are particularly good at devouring snail eggs and a small colony of tiny pest snails. Although every betta behaves differently, so there's no assurance how they'll react with snails. They grow to sizes of 3 inches, and you need a tank size of at least about 5 -10 gallons to keep them.
Bettas cannot tell the difference between pest snails and ornamental snails, so only put them in tanks when the ornamental snails are too large to fit in their mouth. You should also be careful and check their compatibility with fishes in your tank as they could sometimes be aggressive.
Gouramis are popular fishes in aquariums and are naturally found in Southeast Asia. They have shades of silver, red and blue that can brighten up your aquarium and make it look lively.
Gouramis belong to a class of fish called the labyrinth, which means they have similar organs to a lung that allows them to breathe air. So, they can stay in low oxygen environments and are very hardy.
Gouramis are also very strong in that they can rip snails out of their shells and eat them. Their size varies depending on the species you go for. Still, we would recommend dwarf gourami that grows to about 3.5 inches.
Gouramis can get aggressive in overcrowded tanks and have complex behavioral issues that might make it difficult for them to live with other species. It is important to do in-depth research into their compatibility with the fishes in your tank.
Dwarf Chain Loach
The dwarf chain loach has a unique look. Indigenous to Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, these shoaling fishes are usually found at the bottom of the water column.
Just like their name, the top half of their body is a thick band of black and silver spots that run along with the band, making them look like a metal chain. They have delicate barbels that they use to search for food, usually in large groups.
These fishes usually prey on small snails, around the same size as pond snails. They will work as a great alternative for those who can't keep yoyo loach in their tank for whatever reason.
Dwarf chain loach grows to 2 inches long, and you need at least 30 gallons of water to keep them. The water conditions most ideal to them is a temperature range of 68-86oF and a pH of 8.0.
Here’s what you have to watch out for:
It may harass ornamental snails if it’s in a small tank. Like other fishes on this list, you have to supplement the dwarf chain loach with other foods.
Frozen meaty food and live foods like bloodworms, daphnia, cyclops, and tubifex are great options. Also, remember to add high-quality dry foods to their diet.
How Do I Prevent Snails in My Aquarium?
The best way to prevent snails from infesting your aquarium is by stopping them from entering in the first place. Why you buy a fish, ensure nothing in the bag is put in the aquarium, including the water. If you get live plants for your tank, you should get them treated before putting them in your tank. Options you can use to soak your plants are:
Bleach: Prepare a gallon of water mixed with a cup and a half of bleach. Put your plants in and soak for five minutes, remove and then soak again in clean water with a dechlorinating agent before rinsing well. You should be careful as some fragile plants can get damaged by bleach, but it remains the most effective way to kill snails and eggs.
Potassium Permanganate: Put a half tablespoon of potassium permanganate in one gallon of water to prepare a saturated solution. Put the plant in it for fifteen minutes and thoroughly rinse before putting it in the tank.
Alum: Add two tablespoons of alum in one gallon of water to soak your plants. Leave the plant in the solution for about two or three days. Rinse well before planting in your aquarium.
How to Control Their Spread
You should keep a proper balance of snails in your aquarium as you need a few snails to eat leftover food and algae in your tank.
Apart from using snail-eating fish, one of the best and least stressful ways to keep their population in check is by leaving a lettuce leaf to the glass before you sleep at night. This leaf often lures snails to them, and in the morning, you will find a bunch of snails eating or nibbling on the lettuce. You can easily pick this up and dispose of it. You won't get all the snails this way, but it'll help keep their number in check.
Another option is to add commercial preparations with copper into your aquarium to reduce the snails. This should only be a last resort, and you need to take extra care, so it does not negatively affect your fish.
Ultimately, the less food in the tank, the fewer snails will be there. If you reduce the amount of food you feed your fish, there will be less leftover, meaning the snails will not have much to eat.
Choosing fishes in your tank to take care of a snail infestation isn't as easy as selecting random fishes that can eat snails. You also have to consider the size, temperature, pH, and compatibility with other fishes to see if they can fit in your aquarium.
You can also prevent snails from entering your aquarium in the first place if you take proper precautions when putting fish or live plants in your aquarium.
A couple of snails in the tank could help you clean up leftover food and reduce your tank’s algae. However, monitor their reproduction in your tank carefully so you don't get full-blown infestation that will put a strain on your aquarium filter and ecosystem.