8 Best Freshwater Aquarium Snails—Are Snails Good, Do They Clean

By Eddie Waithaka @aquariawise

8 Best Freshwater Aquarium Snails—Are Snails Good, Do They Clean

Some of the most common questions across aquarium and fish keeping forums have to do with pet snails, but by far the most important thing to understand is the kind of snails you have or plan on keeping.

There are about eight species that are quite calming, especially if you are into planted aquariums..

I’ve gathered all of them in this ultimate list, with a close look at each to help you make an informed purchase decision.

That said, it is important that we first explore freshwater aquarium snails, and determine whether they are good or bad for your fish tank.

Should You Put (Add) a Snail in Your Fish Tank?

Well, realistically, pet snails are not a particularly big problem, they are actually big players in your tank’s health, the only problem is they often mass reproduce..

It’s therefore not a bad idea to add snails in both planted and community aquariums which need a little bit cleaning or when you have algae.

However, excess food lying around for your snails to eat will help the vast majority of them to reproduce asexually and lay a lot of eggs, which hatch quickly and produce babies that hit maturity in a short time.

To keep the snail population in check, discourage breeding by making sure they don’t have too much food and nutrition. Alternatively, maintain snails of a single-gender in your fish tank, though this is only feasible when keeping species like apple snails that require both male and female to reproduce.

That said, freshwater snails food sources can be pretty hard to identify because they range from algae, excess leftovers in your substrate and unhealthy plants, which means you’ll most likely experience a snail problem at least once should you decide to keep them.

For this reason, I also prepared this article on how to get rid of snails in your aquarium. Hope it helps!

Do Snails Clean Fish Tanks?

Most freshwater snail species are scavengers and also eat aquarium algae.

So, yes!

Most freshwater aquarium snails will clean your fish tank, albeit some more than others.

Nerite snails are by far the most effective algae-eating snails, while apple and mystery snails will also pick algae, though they will need help from other algae-eaters to be effective.

While mystery snails won’t devour as many algae and leftover as other species, there are ideal if you hold the belief ‘all snails are bad because they produce rapidly.’ This species is easy to control and keep from breeding.

Pond snails and ramshorn snail eat a considerable amount of algae, but they can breed incredibly fast an overrun your tank. So, add assassin snails to keep their population down.

Assassin snails feed on other snails and are easy to control.

To clean your aquarium best, keep the snails with other algae eaters like siamese algae eaters, twig catfish, dwarf suckers, bristlenose plecos, mollies, and shrimp.

Which Freshwater Aquarium Snails are Best—The Top 8 Species

Now that we’ve established pet snails are good and will clean your aquarium (for the most part), below is a list of 8 species to consider when looking for unique additions to your freshwater fish tank.

#1— Nerite Snail

Nerite snails are some of the best algae eaters you can add to your aquarium, plus they are beautiful and pretty easy to care for.

The snails are particularly good additions to planted aquariums, and will also get along with dwarf shrimp. Moreover, nerite snails don’t reproduce in freshwater aquaria like other common species hence won’t overpopulate your aquarium.

Having said that, these snails are from the Neritidae family which contain up to 200 species, with great variability between their color, patterning, and shell shapes.

Also, most members inhabit brackish seashore waters, with only a few native to rivers and streams, which means not all Nerite snails are suitable for freshwater aquariums.

Those kept in home aquariums are native to brackish waters in Eastern Africa and require a mixture of salty water and fresh river water, though many have adapted to living in freshwater tanks.

Nerite snails only reach a maximum size of 1 inch and will fit comfortably in a small 5 to 10-gallon aquarium. Add a single nerite snail for every 5 gallons of water.

House them in a planted tank, decorated with rocks and driftwood and make sure you provide plenty of caves to act as hiding spots, even though the snails spend most of their out and about.

You can use hardy aquarium plants like Java fern to establish a natural-looking environment.

Nerite snails prefer a ph of 8.1 to 8.4, a temperature between 72°F to 78°F. Feed them a herbivorous diet.

#2 — Mystery Snail

Mystery snails (Pomacea bridgesii) are one of the most popular freshwater gastropod. They are a South American species of freshwater snail with gills and an operculum.

The snails are peaceful and interesting, though they don’t consume as much alga as nerite snails do. Still, they clean up pretty well and eat a fairly large amount of algae from aquarium decor, gravel, glass and plants.

Other common mystery snails include apple snails, spike-topped apple snail, miracle snail, golden snail, cherry snail, Inca snail,

Even so, it is important to note that there are different species in the genus Pomacea (where mystery snails fall), which are also called apple snails and most of which are pest animals.

Usually, mystery snails will grow to an average length of 2 inches, meaning they are ideal even for small aquariums. In terms of actual aquarium size, like many other snails, a Gold Inca Snail can thrive in small established 5 or 10-gallon aquarium, or in larger established tanks as well.

Keep these snails in water with a ph range of 7.0 to 8.0 and the temperature between 68°F and 84°F.

All snail shells are made 95 to 99 percent calcium carbonate, which means a low (acidic) water ph will dissolve the shells and potentially harm you gastropods. Also, they are sensitive to copper in tap water and fish medication.

If you have a planted aquarium with peaceful fish, you can maintain your mystery snails in a community. Moreover, the snails are gonochoristic, which means a male and female must be present for reproduction. So, maintain one gender if you are wary of snail’s prolific reproduction.

#3 — Assassin Snail

The assassin snails, also commonly called Clea helena are a freshwater snail species that are highly sought after in the aquarium trade for their ability to prey on pest snails.

They are native to Southeast Asia mostly in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

These snails do well in most aquariums, and mostly grow to an average length of 3 inches. The average lifespan of assassin snails is about 3 years, though they easily live longer in a well-maintained aquarium.

Usually, the snails thrive in mature fish tanks with a minimum space of 30-gallons. The tank size may seem a little large for a 3-inch gastropod, but considering the snails’ needs, the size is justified.

Be sure to provide your assassin snails with a soft (preferably sandy) substrate because they spend most of their time at the bottom of the aquarium ambushing snails that like to burrow.

They prefer alkaline water, with the ph anywhere from 7.0 to 8.0 and moderate to very hard. Keep your aquarium temperature between 70°F to 80°F for you snails best health and comfort.

A unique advantage of keeping assassin snails is they don’t have an interest in live aquarium plants, meaning you can add them in almost any fish tank set up including those planted with fragile species.

Feeding assassin snail is pretty straight forward because they naturally feed on other species of snails and worms. Plus they also scavenge on almost anything including decomposing fish and small inverts.

A word of caution though; assassin snails have been reported to eat fish eggs and immobile fry, so avoid housing them in breeding tanks unless you are raising livebearers like mollies.

#4 — Ramshorn Snail

The term ramshorn snail has two known uses, but in the context of aquarium gastropods, it is used to describe various types of freshwater snail that are characterized by a planispiral shell.

The shell is a flat coil like the coil of a rope or a ram’s horn.

Most ramshorn species are of the family Planorbidae, with some bigger (giant and Colombian ramshorn) than others.

Many aquarists add ramshorn snails in tanks because they make good clean up crew courtesy of their strong appetite for algae. They get rid of algae in no time.

They’ll also clean the plant surfaces, rotting leaves, and carcasses that have been missed during regular cleaning.

Moreover, ramshorn snails are priced for their colors that range widely and some of which are quite attractive. You will find a variety of shades that include orange, pink, blue, leopard, brown, black, green, and red.

Unfortunately, ramshorn snails breed like the proverbial rabbits. Because they are hermaphrodite, they can reproduce and take over your aquarium within weeks.

Additionally, they produce a lot of excrements and live plants and food meant for shrimp. Some species like the red ramshorn are known to carry parasitic flukes, which can transmit to fish.

However, it is possible to control their reproduction and population by not overfeeding them. Plus you can easily eliminate them using traps or adding predators like assassin snails and dwarf puffer fish

If you decide to add ramshorn snails in your aquarium, use at least a 5-gallon tank with the water fairly alkaline, with a ph of 6.5 to 8.0. Keep the temperature between 75°F to 82°F.

#5 — Trumpet Snail

Malaysian trumpet snails are probably the most debated snails in the hobby. They have a few purposes including cleaning substrates and eating algae, but they also have a couple of glaring cons.

Also called red-rimmed melania, they are a freshwater species, with an operculum and distinctive reddish spots on their otherwise greenish-brown shells, hence their name.

Due to their hearty appetites, almost feeding continuously, Malaysian trumpet snails can consume a surprisingly large amount of algae and leftovers and help keep your aquarium water pristine.

On the flip side, they are a burrowing species, that reproduce at a pretty small size and quite rapidly. They also tend to be heavily nocturnal, so you may assume you have a few, but if you come down after the lights go out, you will find tons of them.

For this reason, Malaysian trumpet snails are unwanted to some hobbyists, especially if they start clogging up intake-strainers, getting into impellers, and causing all sorts of general problems associated with keeping freshwater snails.

Still these snails are interesting pets when kept in the right conditions and can accent your aquarium environment in ways other species can’t.

To get the best experience from keeping trumpet snails, try not to overfeed them and add a couple of traps and snail predators if they start to overpopulate your aquarium.

Alternatively, remove them manually and feed them to any snail consuming pet you have including fish. Only use chemicals to eliminate them as the very final course of action.

That said, house your Malaysian trumpet snails in a 5-gallon tank (or more) filled with moderately-hard to very-hard water, with an alkaline ph.

Maintain an aquarium temperature setting between 64.5°F to 86°F.

#6 — Rabbit Snails

An interesting freshwater snail to keep is the rabbit snail, also called elephant snails. They are pretty peaceful creatures that are not feisty by any means but seem very curious about their surrounding. They are mostly active both during the day and at night.

Having said that, there are several types of rabbit snails available in stores today, so it’s important to note that different sellers may name them differently.

The most common species in the trade include yellow poso, chocolate poso, golden spotted, yellow spotted, white-spotted, black rabbit, orange rabbit, and gold rabbit snails.

Rabbit make fantastic additions to most established aquariums and are priced for their non-aggressive nature and tendency to explore their environment. They are also quite attractive and love to move around the tank. Still, they are relatively easy to care for

However, rabbit snails are not too popular because they don’t eat most types of algae, are slow breeders, and are not widely available in pet stores compared to other species.

To keep them safe and healthy, use a fine substrate in your aquarium because they love digging themselves into the substrate. Also, if you house them with fish, be careful with medication as they are overly sensitive to copper.

Rabbit snails prefer alkaline water with a ph of 7.5 to 8.5, a hardness of 4 to 12 dGH, and temperature between 75°F to 88°F.

“Tylomelania (rabbit) snails are generally beautiful (color, patterns, and form), lively, and adaptable. In fact, they are almost everything you don’t associate with aquarium snails.”

#7— Black Devil Snails

If you are wary of snails that produce babies by the hundreds and nervous about Sulawesi snails care and requirements, then Faunus ater is your solution.

The black devil snails, also called lava snails or Faunus ater are an extremely hardy and large freshwater snails species that is very effective at eating algae and does not reproduce in freshwater. They are excellent substrate cleaners.

Also, the snails look awesome.

The snails grow to a large size and feature gorgeous glassy shells that range in color from chocolate brown to the deepest black.

They are mostly native to blackish waters of Thailand, but can also be found in other parts of Asia. In the aquarium, they’ll thrive in freshwater, albeit the need for higher salinity to breed.

Although close relatives of the Malaysian trumpet snails, they are more similar in shape and size to giant Sulawesi snails. However, black devil snails are way hardy and active that the Sulawesi snails, with the ability to move faster throughout the fish tank and live in colder temperatures.

The thrive best in temperatures between 71°F to 82°F and water hardness of 5 to 15 dKH and a ph of 6.8 to 7.5.

Because the snails grow fairly large, you’ll need to go with an aquarium of at least 10 gallons, based with a fine substrate because they also love to burrow. A sand substrate will be appreciated, though gravel will work too.

You can add a couple of live plants in your black devil tank, although there have been reports of these snails munching on plants slightly. So, to be safe, go for only sturdy aquatic plants like Java fern that can take a bite.

#8 — Japanese Trapdoor Snail

Thse large freshwater snails are quite unusual-looking yet very attractive. They vary in coloration and patterns and have a reputation for being tranquil, non-aggressive, soft algae eaters.

Japanese trumpets are so named for their operculum, which is a tough plate that protects the snail by forming a seal at the edge when it retreats inside the shell. The snail’s shell is spiral-shaped but varies significantly in appearance, with no two snails being the same.

These snails are native to ponds and slow-moving streams with plenty of vegetation and a muddy substrate.

In the aquarium, trapdoor snails serve some quite useful purposes. For instance, they clean algae from fish tank glass, plant and decorations, and they keep your substrate clean and the correct color.

They are particularly adept at keeping pond and aquarium plants free of algae with minimal damage to the plants. Japanese trapdoor snails will also consume uneaten fish food and waste from the floor of tanks.

You can keep them in a community with peaceful fish, shrimp, and plants. They are adaptable to a wide range of water conditions, though it’s important to add them in a fully cycled tank.

The snails are sensitive to sudden changes in aquarium parameters, and acidic water will degrade their shells. Copper-based fish medication will harm them as well.

Why Snails Can Be Bad for Aquarium

For the most part, (as I’ve mentioned before) aquarium snails are beneficial as they feed on accumulated waste in your fish tank, consume algae, clean your substrate, glass, plants, decoration and even eat uneaten fish food.

However, they might become a problem when they start to eat your live plant or clog filter intakes.

Plus with most species, where there is one snail, there is probably more because they reproduce rapidly and some burrow in the substrate and are hard to spot. Still, some are nocturnal only coming out at night.

That said if you encounter a nuisance snail population, you must act quickly, but don’t go with your first instinct and buy some type of chemical because most will kill the snails, but will also harm your fish.

Instead, first add snail-eating fish to your tank or remove them manually and dispose them. Snail traps are equally effective same as non-fish predators like assassin snails.

In conclusion, it’s not entirely possible to say whether snails are good or bad in aquariums. But mostly, it come down to the population versus the purpose they are ment to serve in your fish tank!

That’s all.

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