Usually, there are two types of aquarists, vets, and the not so experienced. If you happen to be the latter, you most likely have only witnessed the horrible snails!
Those that lay eggs underwater and overpopulate your tank within days, and they devour all live plants in your aquarium.
Well, mystery snails are not your ordinary hooligans, they are subtle cleaner with the work ethic of female worker ants, and they don’t overrun your tank unless you let them.
Mystery snails, also called spike topped apple snails are a South American species of freshwater gastropods kept as pets in aquariums for their wide range of shell color.
Moreover, they are scavengers meaning they’ll eat leftover food and rotting plants hence help clean the tank for you.
So, in case you need excellent cleaning services and beauty for the price of one, consider adding a mystery snail in your aquarium.
That said, this article will let you in on everything there is to know about mystery snails before you go out to the pet store to get one.
Mystery Snails Overview: Appearance, Color, Shells
Mystery snails are a popular freshwater gastropod often available in many pet stores.
Their shells are mostly brown although other shell colors exist. You can find shades anywhere from creamy to solid colors with others having accent stripes and markings.
In my experience, I have come across black, brown and purple, even rich gold, ivory, jade, and blue shells.
However, a mystery snail shell might change slightly given an aquariums water parameters, occasionally, the shell will either turn white or get darker.
The mystery snails shells are also unique in shape which make them easy to identify. The spiral point of the shell is usually rounded as opposed to sharp and pointed like other species, while the top edge is flat.
Mystery snails head and body are generally dark grey or black and the foot a lighter grey. However, like the shell, the body can range from yellow, gold, blue, green, brown or purple.
The snails are also fairly small growing to about two inches in diameter, so even if you have a small aquarium, you can still adequately shelter them.
Behavior and Temperament
Generally, mystery snails are subtle and peaceful creatures that mostly like to mind their own business. They will never get aggressive towards any of their tankmates and if threatened will simply retreat into their shell.
The snails are also creatures of contrasts, sometimes they’ll be absolutely inactive you’d assume they are dead. They may remain still and dormant for hours probably because they can sleep for up to 15hours.
However, they are equally active at times, particularly when the lights go out. In the dark, they’ll spend their time between moving to the surface for air and feeding.
It’s also common for mystery snails to hang out on the aquarium glass.
If you are lucky you may catch them having fun by themselves, they will go up to the top of the tank only to let go and fall to the bottom.
When bored, mystery snails spend the most of their time staring at the algae that build upon the glass or maybe travel steadily through the aquarium looking for interesting places to explore.
Most South American mystery snails - Pomacea Bridgesii- will live for about a year sometimes a year and a half.
Even so, mystery snails do require proper care even though they seem like simple creatures since most will suffer some type of health issue in their lifetime.
For this reason, if you want to increase its lifespan of your snails, give them proper tank and water conditions and feed them a healthy diet.
Also, regular calcium intake is required to help them build and keep a strong shell, which they need for protection, and at times, mobility.
Unfortunately, there is a chance your snail will die shortly after being added to your tank because of the sudden change in water parameters which vary from what the snail is used to. So, study a mystery snail natural habitat and try to replicate that in your tank, and make sure you acclimate them properly.
Mystery Snail Tank, Water Conditions and Tankmates
In their natural setting, mystery snails live in ponds, swamps, and rivers and feed on dead and decomposing plant matter which is different from other apple snails.
They are native to South America, mostly in Paraguay, Brazil, and Bolivia, hence an aquarium setting akin to this environment is best for the snails.
Mystery Snail Tank
Mystery snails don’t grow too big, so they can live in small tanks. If you have a big tank though, you can always throw more than one in there.
Ideally, allow about five gallons for one, at most two snails.
If yours is a community aquarium, a tank anywhere from 10 gallons should be good enough to keep one mystery snail.
If you don’t want your snails to breed in the tank, consider keeping snails of the same gender since it takes a girl and a boy mystery snail to make a baby.
However, you will need to get a filter for a community tank because snails have a relatively high waste output, though they also help clean up food, plant and fish dirt. Plus ensure the filter is up to the task and watch out for ammonia spikes as your aquarium filter bacteria adjust to the extra waste.
The water in your tank will also become cloudy, especially if you feed your snails fresh veggies, from microorganisms in their intestines which help them digest food.But you don’t need any special cleaning, the dirt will get filtered out with the rest of the waste.
Its also ideal to keep your tank full of vegetation, which will not only make your aquarium look nice, but also provide plenty of natural food for your snails.
Some good live plant options you could add are Java moss and Java fern.
Soft pebbles and gravel substrates are good as they make it easy for the snails to move around.
Nonetheless, you’ll need to choose wisely because each substrate creates a different setting in your tank, which means, although there is the best base for snails, you’ll have to consider all aquarium requirements.
That said, a thing to watch out for is copper in your tank. Mystery snails are sensitive to copper thus your risk killing them if exposed.
This includes copper based medicines used to treat the fish living with your snails.
Even so, add calcium in your aquarium without worry as this will help your mystery snails keep their shells strong and healthy.
Lastly, be sure to add an aquarium lid (cover) because mystery snails are escape artists. They’ll crawl up and get out of the tank especially when food is scarce or when the snails hate the tank condition after a water change.
Your lid should be firm and have a number of holes for ventilation.
Mystery snails prefer hard water rich in calcium, so to keep them happy, maintain your aquarium water is at about 150ppm.
Avoid sudden water temperature changes as well, because although snails will do ok in a wide range of water conditions, it takes them a long minute to adapt to changes.
The ideal water temperature range is anywhere between 68°F and 84°F.
An issue you should be concern about is low water pH, in that acidic conditions will degrade the snails’ calcium carbonate shells, which will also be counterproductive to any effort you make to increase calcium access for them.
Be it as it may, a water pH above 7.2 should be basic enough for mystery snails.
Mystery Snails Tankmates
Mystery snails are subtle hence can live with a host of freshwater fish and inverts.
However, because they lack appropriate self-defense capabilities, other than their shells, its best to put them with non-aggressive fish.
Interestingly, mystery snails are also among the very few inverts or fish that can live with feisty fish like betta probably because they will almost never respond to confrontation.
Good tankmates include shrimps like red cherry, ghost shrimp,Amano shrimp other freshwater snails like nerite and trumpet snails.
Fish like tetras and guppies will fairly allow your mystery snails to mind their business thus reasonably good roomies. However, goldfish and other toughies like cichlids and crayfish should be avoided.
Also, even without a big experience with mystery snails, I think nippers are generally not a good idea because they may attack the snails and yank their tentacles or siphon organs or inflict injuries on snail’s body, head or foot.
One other thing to consider, other than aggression, is the preferred living condition, go for fish and inverts that love hard water with a high pH or maybe other algae eaters.
Mystery snail will also live together with their own kind without issues, and you only need to consider the number of snails you keep.
Mystery Snails Food, Diet and Feeding
In the wild, mystery snails feed on dead rooting plant matter and algae growing on rock surfaces. Hence they shouldn’t eat any different in the aquarium.
On the whole, these scavengers will enjoy a planted tank. Live plants will provide them with quick natural food, plus they will dine on scraps scattered on the substrate, and any algae growing on your aquarium glass and other hard surfaces.
However, feed the snails and other algae-feeders with algae wafer as an alternative to naturally occurring algae, which will serve a complete diet that is fortified with vitamin supplements.
Also, because mystery snails are herbivores, it’s common for experienced aquarists to offer them vegetables.
In case you choose to feed them veggies, use leafy greens like spinach and lettuce or others like Zucchini.
Basically, chunk and boil the greens for several minutes before feeding them to your snails.
Other snail owners prefer to feed their pets with food called snail jello. It is a homemade gel food that often yields superior results to store food due to the added calcium and handpicked ingredients.
I’d also recommend putting a cuttlebone in the aquarium as you would with birds because its a good source of calcium.
If your snails are not interested in the food after a while, remove it from the tank to keep the leftovers from affecting your aquarium water quality.
Breeding Mystery Snails — Or to Stop Them!
Mystery snails are unisexual hence breed the traditional way where it takes a male and female to reproduce. There are also quite adept at figuring out how to breed on their own, so it should not be hard to get newborns.
However, if you don’t want your snails to breed, it equally easy to discourage them or at least make sure laid eggs don’t hatch.
If the intention is for your mystery snails to breed, encourage them by lowering the water level in your aquarium by about 3 or 4 inches.
The female will crawl out of the water and lay her eggs an inch above the water line or on the water surface.
The eggs are usually pink in color, laid in a sort of cocoon that looks like a frothy lump.
If the conditions are right, the eggs should hatch in about a months time.
Another important thing to note is for the eggs to hatch they will need a certain level of humidity around them.
On the flip side, since mystery snails don’t produce under water, removing any eggs laid above or on the surface of the water is a good trick to keep them from reproducing.
You could also keep one mystery snail or either of the genders together without mixing them. Plus, keeping your tank water level within an inch from the top will ensure the female doesn’t get a good place to lay her eggs.
What to Look for When Buying a Mystery Snail
When you go to your local pet store to buy your snail, avoid tanks with dead animals. Dead tank inhabitants are a sign of an unhealthy environment and may be contiguous.
Look for Mystery Snails that are stuck on the aquarium glass or moving across hard surfaces. But keep away from tanks with mystery snails laying still at the bottom sometimes upside down or any snail floating lifelessly on the surface of the water.
Also, buy snails with healthy thick and full shells that have no cracks on them. A thin cracked shell is a sign that the snail is unhealthy or has been living in a hostile tank.
Your mystery snail shell should be about two inches, though some may be slightly bigger or smaller.
Finally, you’ll want to inspect the snail’s body, foot, siphon, and tentacles. Sometimes snails, especially ones that have been living with hostile fish, will have injured body parts.
A thing to note is the phrase “mystery snail” may refer to the Chinese mystery snail, sometimes called trapdoor snail, which is considered an invasive species meaning ownership is regulated.
How to Keep Mystery Snail Shells in Good Condition
Mystery snails shells may grow thinner with time or get pitted and fade which should be a cause of concern.
The last thing you want is your snail to be unhealthy to an extent its got no protection left.
So, here are four quick ways you can help your mystery snail keep its shell in top condition.
- Increase your aquarium water pH; as mentioned before, low water pH (meaning the water is acidic), will degrade snails shells because they are made of calcium carbonate, whereas water with a high pH won’t react with the calcium. To increase the water pH, use one teaspoon of baking soda per 10 gallons with every water change.
- If the water pH is appropriate, another option is to add calcium. Use crushed seashells powder or a piece of cuttlebone in your aquarium to spike calcium levels in the substrate.
- You can also use calcium supplements, but be sure the only things in the supplements are calcium or calcium and vitamin D.
- To make the shells nice and shiny, use marine iodide in your aquarium. Place one drop per week per 10 gallons with every water change.
FAQs About Mystery Snails
#1— How Do I Tell if My Mystery Snail is Dead?
It’s a little hard to tell when a mystery snail is sick but dead, that’s fairly easy. Take your snail out of the tank and inspect its body under the shell. If dead it should look lifeless and smell awful.
In fact, sometimes you will catch the smell even before you get the snail out of the aquarium especially if more than one is dead.
If there is no smell but the snail still looks lifeless, pull gently on the foot. A live snail, even if sick, will have a reflex to keep it closed. Whereas a dead one has no reflex.
It’s, however, normal for new snail-keepers to be worried when a snail has not moved from one spot in a while, though that should not a cause for immediate concern. Just keep glancing at it from time to time; most likely it’s just sleeping.
When it gets dark outside, switch off your aquarium lights and dim any bright lights in the room. Give the snail about one hour then see if there is any movement. Usually, snails get active when it’s dark so maybe that is all it needed to get busy.
One last chop is to put your snail in a clear glass filled with tank water. If the snail is alive, the new environment may spur it to move and explore.
#2— Why Do Mystery Snails Float to The Top of The Tank?
There are various reasons why a mystery snail would be floating on top of your aquarium water.
One, because they can! It’s a natural behavior.
You see, some snails have the ability to come up to the surface of the water and store some amount of air in their shells. Like a ballon, the snail becomes buoyant hence can say goodbye to the bottom dweller and float as long as it wants.
Once it opens up the shell, it’ll fall back down to the bottom or sanction on to something.
Another reason would be they are hungry!
Snails in the aquarium often have the habit of floating upside down to access any food that’s floating at the top. When this is the case, you just need to give your aquarium inhabitants more food.
Lastly and sadly, the snail might be actually dead. In which case, use the tips I’ve given to make sure.
Have fun keeping mystery snails