Freshwater Fish That Eat Snails
Fish that Eat Snails
If you have a pest snail outbreak in your freshwater aquarium you may be considering adding some fish that eat snails to your tank. They’ll chomp up the offending invaders and your tank can go back to normal, you reason. It seems like an easy way to deal with the issue, and you get to stock some cool new fish.
However, there are some important things to consider before you run out and get snail-eating fish. Making a bad choice can doom not only your new fish, but possibly your whole tank. While it’s always very important to research any fish you intend to stock, it becomes even more so when you bring in a fish to do a specific job.
While there are some benefits to keeping fish that can help regulate your snail problem, there are also a few pitfalls. With that in mind, here are a few things I’d like you to consider before you add any new fish to your tank.
- While these fish are known to eat snails, they may or may not decide to do so in your tank. You never know what a fish will do, so don’t be surprised if you end up with one who prefers other foods.
- Please make sure the fish you choose are compatible with other fish in your aquarium, as well as appropriate for the size of tank you have. This means doing the necessary research before purchase.
- Please choose fish you want to have around for a long time, not simply those you think will solve your snail problem today.
Finally, before you go out and get new fish for your aquarium, take some time to learn how pest snail problems happen in an aquarium to begin with. It is often due to overfeeding, poor tank maintenance practices or other errors on the part of the fish keeper. Learning to deal with these issues is part of the learning process, and if you can get them under control your snail problem may decrease or go away altogether.
With all of that out of the way, here are some popular freshwater fish that eat snails.
The clown loach is a well-known snail connoisseur, and a really nice addition to the right tropical fish tank. However, they do come with a few concerns. For one thing, they get really big, with some individuals topping a foot in length.
They are also best kept in schools of six or more. Logically, you’ll need a pretty large tank for a school of foot-long fish. I’d suggest 100 gallons or bigger. Most people don’t have a tank that size, and that means for most fish keepers the clown loach is not an appropriate fish. But, if you have a huge tank, they may be able to help you with your snail problem.
Clown loaches are scavengers and will munch up any fish food that falls into their domain, but it is still a good idea to feed them sinking pellets to make sure they get enough to eat.
If you are among the many for whom the clown loach is a poor choice, consider the yoyo loach instead. They only grow to around half the size of the clown loach, making them much better for most community tanks. And, like their bigger cousins, they are known for their appetites for snails.
Since you’ll want to keep them in small schools of six or more you’ll need a 55-gallon tank or bigger for these guys. Like the clown loach you’ll want to feed sinking pellets.
I know it might seem like skipping the pellets will encourage them to eat more snails, and maybe that’s true. But remember that snails are only part of their diets, and they still need to get nutrition from elsewhere.
Many people swear gouramis will eat snails. I’ve kept dwarf gouramis, three-spots and, if memory serves, I once had an ornery kissing gourami. I never noticed any of them eating snails, or having any impact on the resident pest snail population.
However, if you intend to have them anyway, keep an eye out and see how they do. I’d be interested in hearing more information on whether or not they’ll do the job.
As with any fish, do your research beforehand. Gouramis have some complex behavioral issues that can sometimes result in bullying and stress for a weaker fish. And, as we know, stress is the biggest reason fish die in aquariums.
Do betta fish eat snails? Many fish keepers will tell you yes, but I have personally never seen it. However, I do think there are probably cases where they will. Bettas are opportunistic feeders in the wild, and if they come to think of snails as food I can’t imagine why they’d pass them up.
Another reason I think they might is because they sometimes pick on apple and mystery snails. If they’ll do that, there is no reason to think they won’t suck a pond snail right out of its shell if they can.
The truth is every betta behaves differently, and some are more likely to munch on gastropods than others. This is one of the many reasons you wouldn’t want to rely on a betta fish to solve your snail problem. Bettas can be community fish in certain circumstance, but you’d never want to add one to a tropical tank without putting a lot of thought into it.
Cories probably will not eat snails, though some say they will eat small ones. However, they are industrious scavengers that may eat or damage snail eggs. These guys do a solid job of general tank maintenance all around, and so they are always a good fish to have in a community tank.
If they gobble up a few snail eggs here and there all the better. Even if they do, remember that there are places in the tank your cories are not going to be able to reach.
Again, always be sure to feed sinking pellets when you have bottom dwellers like cories and loaches in your tank. While they will eat some flake food that drifts down to the bottom, it is tough for them to compete with the fish swimming above them. Sinking pellets ensure they get the nutrition they need.
Long ago, before I knew enough about them, I had a pair of bala sharks in a 55-gallon tank. The tank had previously suffered from a small-scale snail outbreak. A few weeks after introducing the bala sharks I suddenly realized there were no more snails in the tank. In fact, months later, even after I had re-homed the bala sharks, the snails didn’t come back.
I didn’t have a lot of snails to begin with, but after the bala sharks came there were none. To be clear, I am not saying that bala sharks are the answer to your snail problem. In fact, they aren’t appropriate for most home aquariums.
As I discovered so many years ago, they grow into huge fish as adults, and they need to be kept in schools. I wouldn’t try them again unless I had something like a 200-gallon tank, and even then I might think twice.
Large goldfish will often eat snails. I’ve written about a local pet store that would move this big goldfish from tank to tank in order to control the snails. Once he ate them all in one tank, they’d move him over to the next one.
I don’t think that’s a smart idea for most of us, but if you have a large cold-water tank and you think you’d like a goldfish in there he might just munch up most of your snails.
Be aware that goldfish are not tropical fish, which is why I said a cold-water tank. They need cooler temperatures. Many varieties also grow very large, sometimes over a foot in length. They should be housed in huge tanks or ponds as adults.
So, while goldfish may be among the most diligent snail eating fish, unfortunately they are not a good choice for fish keepers with average-sized tropical tanks.
Green Spotted Puffer
If you’ve ever owned a green spotted puffer you know how important snails are. Puffers have bony plates in their mouths that will overgrow if they don’t eat hard foods to grind them down. Common pond snails are an important part of their diet, especially when they are young.
At one time I would go from pet store to pet store, asking them if I could have any pest snails running around in their tanks to feed to my puffer. They were usually happy to get rid of them, but it was a big hassle. Later I started a little snail tank so I could breed my own.
Most green spotted puffers will eat as many snails as you can give them, but they do come with very specific care requirements. For one thing, GSPs are cute little killing machines that will likely destroy any other fish you attempt to house with them. They also require brackish water as they age, and so would not be a good long-term community fish anyway.
But, if you wanted to keep a GSP in another tank, you’d always have something to do with your pest snails.
Never send a fish to do a snail’s job. The assassin snail is exactly what it sounds like: a snail that kills and eats other snails. It will eat other things too, like leftover fish food, algae wafers and sinking pellets. That means you don’t have to worry about them starving if they do too good of a job.
While the speed of an assassin snail hunt will never remind of you of a rerun of the Dukes of Hazzard, they are still pretty impressive in action. They will likely breed in your tank, but they won’t reach the maddening population levels of other snail species.
It should go without saying that you should never add snail-eating fish and assassin snails to your tank. While bigger and tougher than the average pond snail, they are still susceptible to predators that see them as food.
Most Fish Eat Snails
If you've read this far and none of the fish mentioned seem like they'd be a good fit for you tropical tank there is still hope. Many of the fish you already have in your aquarium would eat snails if they could. The problem is they can’t get past that shell.
If only they had some help. Maybe if there was someone big and strong enough to crush the shell so they could get to the meaty treat inside.
Hey, maybe that someone is you!
Did the screen just come rushing at you while the dissonant scrape of a violin sounded in the background, like some horrible aquatic horror movie?
Squishing up snails with your fingers so your fish can eat them isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure. But it is a way to put all of those pest snails to a good use. Some fish keepers simply pluck snails off the glass and crush them, and then drop them back into the tank.
Does it sound harsh? Maybe, but, if your snail problem is out of control the stark reality of the situation is that they must come out one way or another. Otherwise, they will continue to breed and overrun your aquarium. You can catch them in snail traps and chuck them, or you can put them to use feeding your fish.
Keeping Snails Under Control
Remember that a few snails in your tank isn't a problem, and might even be good for it. But once things get out of control you must intervene.
While there are some fun fish you might be able to add to you tank, it is easy to see from the list above that most of them come with their own issues you’ll have to deal with. So, I’ll reiterate what I said in the beginning of this article: Please don’t add any fish to your tank unless they are appropriate and fit into you overall stocking plan. Always do your research before choosing a fish.
I’d also avoid adding any of the fish mentioned above to a tank where you keep mystery or apple snails. You never know what they might do, or if they can cause any damage.
Finally, remember that good tank management practices can help you avoid a snail problem to begin with. Keep up with cleanings, learn to do easy water changes, and avoid overfeeding.
Good luck choosing the best snail-eating fish for your freshwater aquarium.