Aquarium's Most Asked Question
What type of snail is this? Yes, with freshwater aquariums and all the Facebook blogs I am on, this always seems to be the number one question. I see this question asking at least four or five times a week where a person will post a somewhat fuzzy picture and ask the question: What is this, and is it good or bad for my tank?
I have decided it would be nice to create a short blog explaining four of the most common types of pest snails aquarist seem to have as hitchhikers in things we buy, such as plants, rocks, or in one case fish food. Yes, I had a tank that got a snail infestation of a small species of bladder snail that bred quite successfully in my external canister filter. After checking all the boxes, the pellets I was using were the only source where snails could be present. My guess is some eggs survived the food making process and populated my tank. A snail can appear from the most surprising places, but it is my view most are not harmful to the tank.
Let's start this conversation by talking about the two most commonly found snails, and while they are similar but different. Yes, I am talking about Bladder and Pond Snails, which they are often confused for being the same type of snail there are slight differences. Bladder snails tend to grow a bit smaller and have thinner round tentacles. While Pond snails have thicker triangular tentacles and will grow larger. Both have similar shell shapes and colors. Bladder snails tend to have more color and spots in the shells, while pond snails tend to be more brownish in color. Both are prolific breeders depending on the amount of available food in the aquarium, the more food available, the more breeding you will see.
The difference between these two snails tends to come down to diet. Both types of snails are omnivores and will feed on algae, decaying plant matter, and decaying animal matter. They do not actively hunt live food but are opportunistic if a fish happens to die in the tank. If you happen to be gone a few days, the snails can take care of the problem of your tank getting a bacterial bloom and smell from a dead fish.
The main difference is their plant diet preference. While bladder snails prefer decaying matter and leftover food pond snails do consume live plants. If food is plenty, the pond snails may leave the live plants alone, but as food becomes scarce, they will feed on the live plants. Bladder snails may feed on certain types of live plants, but it is a rare occasion unless the plants are already dying. Both snails do not require another snail for breeding purposes and can lay eggs that are jelly-like sacks anytime. These are probably the hardest of snails and can live in a wide variety of conditions.
The next hitchhiker is one of my favorites as I have always been a fan of the shell shape. I am talking about the Ramshorn snails which come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. Having a tall round spiral shell design, they are very unique looking and generally pleasing to look at in the aquarium. While there are many varieties today, I am just talking about the common brown Ramshorn, which is usually the Ramshorn type that likes to hitchhike into new aquariums.
Ramshorn snails are very similar to pond and bladder snails as far as diet, breeding, and water requirements. They common Ramshorn tend to get larger than bladder snails about 1/2 inch and are not as prolific in reproduction but still produce reasonably quickly. As they are larger, they tend to eat more algae and are safe with most fish. Like bladder snails, Ramshorn tends to not eat live plants, so they are safe in planted aquariums. Although the standard color is brownish, they do come in varieties such as red and blue, which are more valuable in the hobby.
The final snail I use in all my tanks is not always popular with all aquarium owners as their numbers can get out of hand, and you might not even notice. I am talking about the long spiraled shell of the Malaysian trumpet snail. I consider these the earthworms of the aquarium as they spend the majority of their time under the substrate eating leftover food and debris. They do serve a purpose in moving the substrate; they release gas buildup and bring needed oxygen down into the substrate.
They can be considered pests because they breed quite fast, and smaller snails may go unnoticed as they are in the substrate. Often when the lights go out, they will move about the aquarium, so nighttime is the best time to get a count on how many are in a tank. If you have planted tanks, these snails can help produce nutrients and bring some oxygen to the plants' roots. They do not bother plants and are mainly beneficial to the aquarium.
When it comes to snails and aquariums, they each have a role today, and I have only talked about four types of snails, which are just common to find as stowaways. This is a basic overview, and in my planted tanks, I keep the Bladder, Ramshorn, and Malaysian trumpet snails. I find the snails keep a balance, and their numbers do not get out of hand. Also, keep in mind you need a calcium source when keeping snails as they need extra calcium for healthy shell development. Thank you for taking the time to read my short blog on some aquarium snails.