Snails in the planted aquarium

Whether snails are useful or harmful in a planted aquarium depends largely on the number present and, to a lesser degree, the type of snails. Generally speaking, a small and controlled snail population is beneficial in a planted aquarium. Snails are scavengers, so as well as eating algae, they will also feed on any waste organic matter, be it in the form of fish waste and fish food or plant waste in the substrate. As they remove some of the organic debris found in the top layer of the substrate, which is not useful to plants, they reduce levels of harmful bacteria. In addition, they continually move the substrate about, preventing algal growth.

Unfortunately, most snail species rapidly breed in the aquarium environment and soon become unsightly. In large numbers, they may damage plants, although this is unlikely; the main reason for ridding an aquarium of snails is simply aesthetic. Any visible damage on plant leaves in an aquarium is far more likely to be nutrient- or water quality-related, rather than due to snail damage. Snails often eat "dead" areas of plant tissue, giving the impression of eating (and causing harm to) plants.

Snails are generally introduced into the aquarium by accident, often arriving on the leaves of plants. If snails are unwanted, the best time to remove them is before they enter the aquarium, so thoroughly check any new plants for snails before adding them to the tank. It is possible to buy solutions in which plants can be dipped for a short period to kill any snails that may be present. However, many of these treatments may not affect snail eggs, which appear as

Right: Larger snails, such as this Viviparus sp., normally found in garden ponds, can eat some delicate plant leaves and should be removed from the aquarium. Smaller species, such as trumpet or spire snails, are less harmful and sometimes useful in the aquarium.

Plant Eating Aquarium Snails

small blobs of jelly on the stems and underside of plant leaves, and on the aquarium glass.

Snail populations already in the aquarium can be controlled by regularly cleaning the top layer of substrate, as well as by removing them. You can make a snail trap by placing a sinking food pellet (such as catfish food) underneath an upside-down saucer on the aquarium floor. Place this in the aquarium at night, when snails are more active, and the following morning there will be a congregation of snails underneath the saucer, which are easy to remove. Some fish, such as clown loach (Botia macrantha) or mollies (Poecilla sp.j, will readily eat small snails, helping to keep populations to a minimum. Snail-killer treatments are available, but avoid them if possible as they can be very harmful to fish and plants if not added in the correct dosages. Much like algae treatments, chemicals used in snail killers are very potent and contain a number of toxic metals, including copper, which may harm many plant species, as well as some fish, including clown loach, which are very susceptible to strong treatments.

Above: The appearance of snail eggs varies. The eggs in the top picture are those of the large apple snail (Ampullarius sp.), while those in the lower picture are more likely to belong to a much smaller species.

Above: The appearance of snail eggs varies. The eggs in the top picture are those of the large apple snail (Ampullarius sp.), while those in the lower picture are more likely to belong to a much smaller species.

Eggs Top Shell The AquariumBotia MacranthaFeed Aquariums SnailFeed Aquariums Snail

Below: Freshwater pufferfish (Tetraodon spp.), such as this Carinotetraodon lorteti remain small (less than 2.75-3.2 in/7-8 cm) but can easily crush snail shells with their teeth and welcome such a feed in the aquarium.

Above: The clown loach (Botia macracantha), a popular and attractive fish, relishes snails as a food source, just as it would in nature. In the aquarium, clown loaches will eat the younger snails, therefore preventing a population increase.

Left: If large snails are allowed to over-populate the aquarium, the damage can be quite significant, as seen on this previously healthy plant.

Below: Freshwater pufferfish (Tetraodon spp.), such as this Carinotetraodon lorteti remain small (less than 2.75-3.2 in/7-8 cm) but can easily crush snail shells with their teeth and welcome such a feed in the aquarium.

Aquarium and Fish Care Tactics

Aquarium and Fish Care Tactics

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