Eric is an aquarium enthusiast with over two decades of experience caring for a wide array of tropical fish.
Snail Infestation in Your Aquarium
You’ve worked hard on your new aquarium. You’ve stocked it appropriately, and your fish appear happy and healthy. Maybe you’ve even included a few live plants, and the whole thing is looking pretty darned good if you say so yourself.
But, as you sit back and admire your work, you notice something strange. There’s a critter in there you sure don’t remember inviting, and when you look closer you realize he's brought a few friends. What the blazes is going on here?
Those tiny snails that mysteriously appeared in your tank are considered pests by many aquarium owners. They multiply like crazy, and unfortunately, they are a challenge to get rid of. Usually, they or their eggs come in on live plants or on bits of gravel from a fish store, and they are hard to spot.
Because of this some aquarists quarantine their plants and dip them in a bleach solution before planting. You can also make sure you don’t add any excess water or material from bags when you add new fish to your tank.
Still, no matter what precautions you take you may find your tank infested. This article discusses a few natural ways to control and possibly eliminate snails in your fish tank. While there are over-the-counter chemicals available that are intended to kill off invertebrates, I’ve always tried to keep things as natural as possible.
Let’s get to it. Those snails aren’t going to leave on their own.
Types of Pest Snails in an Aquarium
The typical types of pest snails are:
Tadpole or Pond Snails
These are the most common snails you’ll encounter, and they breed like crazy. They have small, rounded shells and grow to about the size of a pea. They lay eggs in gelatinous globs on surfaces such as plants, decorations, and even the tank glass, and that’s one of the reasons they are so invasive.
They have taller shells with a spiral shape and they grow to around the size of a dime. They too lay their eggs in clutches along aquarium surfaces. Since they don’t breed as rapidly and are somewhat attractive you may not mind having these guys around.
They have elongated, cone-like spiral shells and grow to about an inch in length. Even if you have them they may be tough to spot when tank lights are on, as they tend to burrow into the gravel and come out in the dark. Like pond snails, they are prolific breeders, but they are live-bearers who don’t lay eggs.
Be aware that we aren’t talking about Apple Snails, Mystery Snails, or other aquarium pets. Those are snails you intentionally add to your tank, and if you have them you need to consider them in your approach to dealing with pest snails. In other words, don’t harm your pets in an effort to get rid of the pests.
Are Snails Good For a Fish Tank?
Believe it or not, those little snails actually do some good in your tank. They work as scavengers, cleaning up waste, debris, and uneaten food. They also eat algae to some extent. If you only have a few, and you don’t mind the look of them, you may not consider them pests at all.
The problems start when their population gets out of control. Snails breathe, create waste, and decompose when they die just like any other fish or animal in your tank. They add to the bioload, meaning your aquarium not only needs to support your fish but an ever-increasing population of snails as well. They are so tiny that a few of them surely won’t matter, but if you let things get out of control before long you’ll find that the tank, and the fish, are under constant stress.
Personally, I also believe that all living things deserve respect and humane treatment. That includes critters we consider pests. For this reason, I highly suggest working hard to keep your snail population under control to begin with. When they are allowed to breed excessively many snails must be removed from the tank and destroyed. While this action is necessary to preserve the health of the fish, it never feels good.
I’ll step off the soapbox now. Let’s solve your snail problem.
Controlling the Snail Population
If you’ve already got snails they aren’t going to go quietly. You’re going to have to get your hands dirty. It is a constant effort to physically remove the snails as best you can. You can set snail traps to encourage them to congregate in one spot. There are over-the-counter traps available, or you can build one yourself.
While you’re plucking the little invaders out you can begin to address the things that caused your snail problem to begin with. Like most issues in the aquarium, it basically comes down to poor management practices.
Snail populations explode because of an abundance of food. In some cases, they eat the same things your fish eat. If you are overfeeding your fish, snails will reproduce more quickly, and once this begins there is a sort of cascade effect. If you have a snail problem you may also have an algae problem, as this too is exacerbated by overfeeding and poor tank maintenance.
Smart Aquarium Management Practices
Here are a few things you need to consider if you want to control snails in your fish tank and keep things safe and healthy for your fish:
- Avoid overfeeding: Many fish food containers suggest feeding your fish several times per day. In my opinion, novice aquarium owners do far more damage over-feeding their fish than underfeeding. Once per day is fine, twice at the most, and only as much as they will eat in a few minutes. Remember that uneaten food sits on the bottom or in the filter and rots, but your snails will happily munch it up. By reducing feedings the snails won’t be able to out-compete your fish for the available food, and they will not be able to rapidly multiply. The better you can manage this the healthier your tank will be.
- Algae control: You’re going to have algae in your tank. A little is actually a good thing. But too much of it can make a mess of your aquarium and even harm your fish. It also provides a food source that enables your snails to thrive. To reduce algae you have to physically scrape it from the glass, manage light in your tank and control overfeeding. You can’t rely on an algae-eating fish; you have to do the work yourself, but it’s not as hard as you might think.
- Regular water changes: Clean water is probably the most important thing for maintaining a healthy aquarium. When chemicals from fish waste, decaying food, and rotting plant matter build up in the tank it can be very harmful to the fish. The bioload of your growing snail population will only make this worse. Solve this problem with regularly scheduled water changes. For an aquarium without live plants, a 15-20% weekly water change is a good goal. If you have live plants you can reduce this to every-other-week, or even monthly.
- Vacuum up excess debris and waste: There are vacuum/water changer devices on the market that make it super easy to do a water change while cleaning the gravel at the same time. These are essentially siphoning tubes with a scoop on one end. I've always used the Aqueon Water Changer, as it is affordable and comes in a 50-foot length. It works very well. Digging the scoop end into the gravel sucks the dirt and debris into the tube, removing some of the food the snails thrive on as well as smaller snails themselves. With the larger siphons, once you’ve removed the desired amount of water, flip a switch and you can begin refilling your tank with the same tube. For more info on this process and to see how I've used my Aqueon device you may want to refer to my article on easy water changes.
How To Clean Aquarium Gravel and Other Tips
Aquarium Fish That Eat Snails
There are a few fish that will happily munch up the pest snails in your tank. I've written an in-depth article on fish that eat snails. You may find it useful. I've also included a short list below.
If you go this route I highly caution you not to add any fish to your tank that you don’t want in there for the long haul. If you think you can make it work, here are a few to consider:
- Green Spotted Puffer: Puffers will mow through your snail population, but they are not suitable community fish. They also have some challenging care requirements and must live in brackish water once they are past the juvenile stage. They’re probably not the best choice unless you are converting your aquarium to a puffer-only tank.
- Clown and Yoyo Loach: These guys will eat snails, but be aware that they can grow somewhat large. If you have a 55-gallon tank or bigger they may be a good choice.
- Betta: Some betta fish may eat smaller snails, but they come with their own set of issues if you wish to keep them in a community setting.
- Goldfish: Many larger Goldfish will hoover up snails in your tank. In fact, a local pet store in my area had a big Goldfish they would move around to the different tanks to keep the pest snails under control. If you consider trying this approach be aware that Goldfish are not suitable for tropical aquariums in the long term. He will have to live in his own tank, and only come out a few hours per week for snail duty. I do not suggest trying this approach with a Betta, in case you are wondering!
- Assassin Snail: Your best bet may not be a fish at all, but another invertebrate. Assassin snails hunt down and eat other snails. They'll also consume leftover food and even algae. A few in your tank will have your pond snails shaking in their shells.
- Cories and other scavengers: Cories are a nice fish to have in your tank even if you don’t have snails. While they won’t eat the snails themselves, they may eat the eggs. But be aware that they can only do so much, and they can’t eat eggs in crevices where they can’t reach.
- Gourami: You may or may not have luck with gourami. Some aquarium owners swear they will eat snails, while others dispute this. I have often kept gourami before and never noticed them eating snails, but if you wish to have them in your tank anyway you might have some success.
Advice for Aquarists with Strong Stomachs
I’ll warn you now: What you are about to read is a little rough. If you are the squeamish type or some kind of radical animal activist, you’ll want to skip ahead to the next section. The information I'm about to present will only make you mad at me and possibly the world as a whole. You have been officially warned.
If you are forced to remove snails from your tank they must be destroyed. Unless you have a puffer to feed or want to keep a dedicated snail tank there are few other options. But there is one if you have the stomach for it.
Most fish will eat snails. The problem is, except for a few mentioned above, they can’t manage the shells. But, if you help out a little by removing the snail from the shell, your fish ought to gobble it up. You do this by crushing the shell with your fingers or some other device. Some aquarists use a pluck-and-squish method, where they grab snails directly off the glass with their (clean) hands, crush them with their fingers and drop them right back in the tank.
This may sound like it contradicts my earlier statements about treating animals humanely even if they are pests, but I don’t think so. Realize that most of the things you feed your fish come from another animal source anyway. And, if you intend to discard and destroy the snails it is far better for them to have a quick demise rather than a long, drawn-out death. At least this way they are being put a use, to feed other living beings.
Think of it like raising and eating your own cows or pigs for meat rather than buying beef or pork from a store. In the same way, this approach may not be for everyone, but I always felt better thinking the snails were at least part of the food chain rather than just tossed aside.
Of course, if you keep your population under control you won’t have to worry about discarding snails to begin with, and that’s always the best approach.
Learn to Love Snails
If you have rats in your house you’re understandably going to go to any means necessary to get rid of them. They spread disease, ruin food, destroy wiring and other parts of your home and cause a whole host of additional nasty problems. Even if you only have a few they have got to go.
Aquarium snails aren’t really the same kind of pest. They can be beneficial in small numbers, and help to keep your tank clean and tidy. If you can manage to keep them under control you may just consider them another inhabitant of your fish tank.
They can also be fun, sometimes anyway. I once had a single ramshorn snail in a 55-gallon tank, who presumably hitchhiked in on a plant. Every day I would look to see where he was and what he was up to. Sometimes he would float around the tank, drifting with the current. I was bummed when he died.
But, if pest snails get out of control in your fish tank you have to take action. I hope I’ve helped you learn a thing or two about how to manage them. If you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments section and I’ll do my best to help.
Fish Tank Overrun with Snails?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Some old guy on June 22, 2020:
I have cichlid tanks, both American and African and a couple of community tanks. I put 2-3 pennies in every square foot area of gravel. It does not get rid of them, but keeps them under control. The trace amounts of copper from the pennies kills the snails and does not affect the fish. It is low maintenance, just a one time thing. The older the pennies the better, new pennies are mostly zinc. I would advise caution with sensitive fish like discus, as I have never raised them. I have used this method for over twenty years with just about every hardy fresh water species available in the trade.
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on April 30, 2020:
@Cat Tay - Snails and snail eggs can definitely live in your filter. As long as they have food they will continue to reproduce.
Cat Tay on April 28, 2020:
My tropical tank has been overrun with snails despite me making traps & also removing what I found each day but after giving everything bar the filter a thorough clean they have returned so is it possible that they could have been living in the filter.Just waiting for my last fish to die then I am going blitz everything do you have anymore tips as I am 76 & finding cleaning everything hard,why are they still returning?
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on April 17, 2020:
@Rassberry - Thanks for the kind words. It is always nice to hear when my articles are helpful to someone. Good luck with your tank.
Rassberry on April 16, 2020:
Snails had taken over. I had algae then used your tips and tricks and now I don't have any more algae. The snails dyed and then my betta ate them. Your website is so helpful! Thank You!
eleizibeth on March 24, 2020:
This was so helpful thank you
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on February 16, 2020:
Gab on February 15, 2020:
Amazing writing. not only i learned about snails that i actualy love and keep, but i drifted into a dream where you presented to me so well. And i insinst: Amazing writing.
Jerry Lynch on June 19, 2019:
I got some Yo Yo loaches and quickly got rid of the ramshorn snails but I'm being overrun by Malaysian trumpet snails. Damn I hate those things.
muscleguy32 on March 13, 2019:
Dwarf Chain Loaches, Botia sidthimunki are small and will eat pest snails. You do need to keep a group of at least 6 but they are smaller than Yo-Yo's who should also be kept in a group.
I got a bag of pest snails from the local shop gratis, helping them out, and put them in the tank and never saw a single snail again. The Loaches hunted down and ate the lot, small adult pest snails.
I'm trying to source ramshorns to put in my nano tank, no loaches, needs algae control then I will have a regular supply of snails to feed the loaches on.
I couldn't swear to it but I strongly suspect kuhli loaches eat snails as well. I could never keep snails in the tank when I had them. The adults would die with no young ones.
Sidthimunki are fun fish to keep but they will need a piece of driftwood to live under. They also like getting into confined spaces. Periodically one will enter my double bent back Fluval cannister outlet and feed on the growth inside it. You will thus need a fish proof filter inlet to keep them.
I also put leaves in my tank for health and blackwater authenticity and they love fossicking about under them as well. They will get inside your plants looking for food as well.
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on January 20, 2019:
@Diggers4 - Snail eggs are annoyingly hardy. Must have been a few in there somewhere. If you aren't attached to the river rock and decorations you can replace them outright and thoroughly clean the tank glass (only use clean water - no detergent). Snail eggs will stick to the glass but they wipe away easily.
If you have a filter running they may have gotten in there too, so you'll want to clean it out and replace the elements.
If you are attached to the decorations and rock you can try cleaning it super thoroughly, again using clean water. The problem is the snails can lay eggs in places you may not be able to reach.
Some people use a bleach solution to kill off snail eggs, but I have never resorted to that. If you want to do some research on that it may prove useful. Good luck!
Diggers4 on January 19, 2019:
Hi There! We bought a used fish tank with some river rock and decorations. We let it sit empty for a week and just out water in it today. The snails came out almost immediately. Not sure how they survived, but they did!
No fish yet, so I’m guessing I’m in the best position to deal with them now. Any specific thoughts for removal under these circumstances?
maddison on October 24, 2018:
um I have healthy fish and I check water often and I have an abundance of snails I have done the bleach prosses but they keep coming back and eating my fish and I wake up and they have two fish and I'm worried
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on May 25, 2018:
@SqueezyCheezy - Snails don't attack living fish. They may eat them when the die, though.
SqueezyCheezy on May 25, 2018:
Do snails attack fish at all? I spotted a few in my betta tank and want to know.
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on May 15, 2018:
@ Dooni - Unfortunately, you probably can't keep the population under control in a tank like that. There is really no reason to maintain a snail tank unless you intend to harvest them as food for your fish. Your snail population will continue to grow if left unchecked.
You can feed them to your fish if you are comfortable squishing them. Otherwise, you may want to shut that tank down before you have hundreds of snails.
If you put assassin snails in there, what will you do with the assassin snails when the pond snails are gone?
Dooni on May 15, 2018:
I got some hitchhiker snails (pond and ramshorn snail) and I didn't want to kill them so I gave them their own tank. Luckily I got them out of the original tank before they laid any eggs. However they are laying eggs in their dedicated tank. I noticed a bunch of egg sacs one day and thought it was OK since there were only 7 original snails. The eggs hatched and at first I didn't notice many babies but now I see that there are quite a few lol. A week later, there are egg sacs again! Now I'm concerned. How do I keep the population under control in a dedicated tank? Assassin snails would eat them all, wouldn't they? Should I just get rid of the eggs before they hatch? I don't want to kill them but I fear I will have to soon.
Bazzabanana on February 14, 2018:
Excellent article looking forward to less snails
cree on November 29, 2017:
I give to shrimps a leaf of mulberry, after some time i find lots of small snails on that leaf, so i took it careful and buy buy snails... Few days ago i find 1 quite nice looking trumped snail, i saw it first time in 6 months when i started new tank.
Eddie Hardt on February 13, 2017:
I've bleached the decorations in my tank. Then, after not buying any new fish for around 3 months, snails appeared out of nowhere. I bought 3 bronze cories and have 2 dwarf gouramis and countless platies, but I had snails just before I bought the cories and platies. The snails, however, appear to be the pond snails you mentioned, and they don't seem to want to leave. I'm actually considering buying a snail killer, but I'm concerned about it harming my fish. Do I have anything to worry about or should I leave the cories to do the dirty work?
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on December 30, 2016:
Thank you Pati. Glad you found it useful. :-)
Pati on December 29, 2016:
What a very helpful read! Thank you
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on November 28, 2016:
Hi Rini. There is really nothing to do with snails except feed them to fish. Most fish will eat them, but you'll have to squish them as advised in this article. This is why it is best to keep your snail population to a minimum, and don't breed them unless you have a use for them. You just end up having to destroy them, which is a shame.
Rini on November 28, 2016:
Thank you for those answers.
To be frank I do not have any idea as to what I am going to do with these snails. I do not have any bigger fish to feed except my auratus cichlid (9 months old). Will he eat snails? Apart from cichlid I only have Guppy, Molly & Platy fishes and their fries. If it gets severe, what to do to control their population? How to get rid of the snails? There are no fish keepers in and around my locality to give away these snails. And the pet store does not take these even as feeder snails. Kindly guide me through.
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on November 26, 2016:
Hi Rini. In answer to your questions:
- I don't know how many days, but they breed fairly quickly. Ramshorn a little slower than pond snails.
- They will eat fish food. Also consider algae wafers, veggie and sinking pellets.
- The bare tank is fine, but it does need filtration and it can't get too cold. It's not a bad idea to have some gravel in there too.
- The 3-gallon is fine for now, but will become overrun with snails in a month or two. You need to have a plan to get rid of the snails in the small tank too.
Can I ask your plan for keeping these snails? I've kept small snail tanks before but I harvested them for feeding my puffers. Otherwise, the situation in their tank would have become untenable in time.
Rini on November 26, 2016:
Thanks for the advise. I did remove the snails one-by-one as you told. I removed all the plants and cleared all visible eggs on it and submerged the plants for one hour in water mixed with turmeric and rock salt and used a makeup brush to remove the eggs near roots, dense and soft parts of plants, washed them with normal water for 2 to 3 times and finally laid them in the pond. It has been a month since I have done all these process and I have not found any snails in my pond since then. I have kept the snails separately in a 3 gallon glass tank. I just noticed how cute these snails are after transferring them into the tank. I have kept all the eggs which were removed earlier in the same tank.
I have some doubts
In how many days a snail's eggs will hatch?
Can I feed fish food for the snails?
I just have a bare tank for them what should I add in it for the snails?
Will a 3 gallon tank be sufficient for 11 ramshorn snails?
Kindly help me out with these queries.
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on October 20, 2016:
Hi Rini. I don't know much about pond care, but I assume the same principles apply. If you can't or won't reduce the algae in the tank, you must pluck the snails out one-by-one. While ramshorns aren't as bad as other snails, they will continue to breed.
Rini on October 19, 2016:
Thanks for such valuable information. I have some doubts. I have a concrete pond I grew algae purposely in it as my fishes (Mollies, Guppies & Platies) love to eat them. Last month I bought some plants for that pond. Today morning I found some snails (ramshorn snails) on the plants. I don't want to scrub the algae off the pond's walls. I don't feed more to my fishes, apart from algae I feed pillets and dried worms once in a day. I don't want these snails to over crowd my pond and I don't want to kill it. Kindly help me on this problem.
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on July 16, 2016:
Thanks norlawrence. I've never added them on purpose either, but I've had a few around!
Norma Lawrence from California on July 15, 2016:
Great article. You have so much information in this article. I have had fish in a tank before but never added snails. Thanks