The Mystery Snail (Pomacea bridgesii) is a species of Apple Snail. However unlike most apple snails, mystery snails do not eat plants. Or rather, they do not eat healthy plants. They also stay small, growing to just over 3in as opposed to softball size like other Apple Snails.
Mystery snails will eat algae, and dead or decaying plants. Unless they are starving, they will not touch your healthy aquarium plants. Other things they enjoy are fish food, algae tablets (the kind you buy for bottom feeders), brine shrimp (and other frozen fish food), dead fish and insects, dead snails, and soft vegetables. If the veggies you feed them float, the snails will learn to come to the top of the water to eat them.
So, how much food do they need? You could use the usual fish rule and see how much they eat in a day and feed them the same amount constantly. However some snails have a wintertime hibernation period even in the best-kept aquariums.
During their period of inactivity, the amount of food they need decreases, but in spring and summer it increases. Especially if you have more than one and they are laying eggs.
Even if you keep your aquarium at the same temperature year round, your snails will go into a hibernation period to a greater or lesser extent. Your best bet would be to vary the amount of food you give them based on season and activity level. If you notice the food dissappears quickly, give them a little extra. If it sits around longer than usual, cut back a bit.
If you can't find mystery snails at your local fish store, or just can't find that elusive color, you can try to buy them online. eBay usually has a few, but they're not often anything but yellow. You can try LiveAquaria.com as when they're in stock, they often have a variety available, but they aren't always in stock. It's basically a hit and miss situation, especially in the fall and winter.
So you just got a snail and aren't sure if it's the Mystery snail or some other type of Apple snail. Before dumping it into your tank to see if it decimates your live plants, check out the shape of the shell. The spiral point of the shell is usually rounded as opposed to the sharper point of some other species, and the top edge of the shell opening is flat (hold the snail so the opening faces you and the spiral point is uppermost, the part of the shell opening that is the 'top' should be close to a 90degree angle. Flat/straight/what have you.)
Mystery snails come in 10 colors. Ivory (rarest), Golden (most common), Yellow, Wild Type (darkish shell with dark stripes), Jade (depending on where you live they will be either common or rare), Blue (semi-rare), Black (common), Purple (rare), Pink (rare, new color), Burgandy (rare, new color).
They aren't picky about water quality. They can live just as easily in pristine, highly filtered water as they can in stagnant water filled with rotting organic waste. However, they do tend to prefer hard calcium rich water. If the water is too soft and does not have enough calcium, they aren't able to keep and build a strong shell. This opens them up to shell damage. If the little holes that appear in these conditions are small and only at the surface, you don't need to worry too much. However if they are large or deep, you have a problem.
Another thing to watch out for in the water is copper and other metals. Mystery snails are especially sensitive to these and will quickly die if exposed to them.
This includes medicines with them as well. If you see your snails go completely inactive or they try to escape the water after a water change, check the metal levels and add something like aquasafe to fix the problem.
If you have many mystery snails in your tank, the water will become cloudy. The reason is they have a large amount of microorganisms in their intestines which help them digest their food. These get expelled with the rest of the waste. They will not harm your fish, but you will see higher levels of them when feeding your snails fresh veggies.
Keeping Shells In Good Condition
A lot of you have seen it, your snails will be fine one day, and the next time you look in on them, they have pitted or dull shells. This is caused by a number of factors. Firstly, is your PH 7.0 or higher? If not, the water is too acid to keep snails and will actually eat away at their shells.
If the PH is fine, you also need to think about adding extra calcium to help the snails with actually building their shells. You can do this in many ways. Adding crushed seashells to the substrate, a piece of cuttle bone (the type birds use, just add a weight so it stays at the bottom of the tank), the vacation feeder blocks, Tums (yes I did say Tums! But not the peppermint kind, only plain or fruit flavored.), calcium supplement tablets (like we use for ourselves, but be sure the only things in the calcium is calcium or calcium and vitamin D.). I use both the cuttle bone, and the calcium tablets with an occasional 'treat' of a grape or strawberry Tums.
To make the shells nice and shiny, I also use Kent Marine Iodide. 1 drop per week per 10-gallons. This supplement will not hurt your other fish as long as you don't use the directions for saltwater.
If you are having trouble keeping your PH high enough, you can add 1tsp of baking soda per 10 gallons with every water change. Just be sure the fish in your tank will tolerate the higher PH before you try this.
What's Your Favorite Mystery Snail Color?
Mystery snails are like mammals in that they have separate sexes. To breed them you must have a male and a female. They cannot make more babies with only one snail in the tank (except in one circumstance, see below).
To tell which gender of snail you have, pick up the snail and hold it so the trapdoor is facing upwards and the spiral point is downwards. When the snail comes out of the shell, look at the upper part of the left side close to the shell edge. If you see a longish protrusion coming out of the side, you have a male. Another way to tell (if your snails like some of mine refuse to come out when held upside down), you can either wait until they are in the middle of reproducing (the male will be on the top), or look at the shell shape. The male has a rounder shell opening.
Since they lay their eggs above the water line, if you want them to breed you must leave enough air space (4-6 inches) between the level of the water and the top of the tank.
Female mystery snails can store sperm for months, so even if you only have a single snail, if it was kept in a tank with males before you brought it home, it is possible to have fertile eggs. With no access to a male, the female may still produce eggs, but they will be infertile and never hatch.
After the eggs are laid, they are soft and have a pale pink color. In a few hours they will harden and get a bit darker. If you need to transfer the eggs to a different location (like a hatching tank), as long as you are careful you can.
The best way to do this is to wet down the eggs, wait a few hours then gently wiggle the eggs until they release from the glass.
Never keep the eggs underwater as you will drown the baby snails. They should stay moist and in a warm humid environment, but out of the water.
The baby snails should hatch in 2-4 weeks. If you don't see any signs after 3 weeks, you can gently break the clutch into a few parts and also gently, move the pieces through the water. If the moisture in the air is high enough, this will not be necessary however.
If you see no snails after doing the above to a 4 week old set of eggs, either they were not fertile or the moisture in the air was too low. If unfertile, the yolks will be very thick and yellow, if too dry, the eggs will be dry and filled with air.
The best way to ensure lots of the babies survive in the first weeks after hatching is to have them in a tank with lots of algae. If this is not possible, you may try crumbling algae tablets into the water along the bottom of your tank.
There is no need for special foods like with fish, as the baby snails eat the same things as the parents from the moment they hatch. They also mature at 1inch, so if you do not want another generation that quickly, remove the eggs laid once they harden.
Temperature, Lifespan and other Info
Mystery snails are most active at night, during the day you may find they hardly move around at all and tend to hide in your plants or other hidey-holes around the tank. I have noticed if you manage to hatch your own, the ones born in your tank are less skittish of the fish or other aquarium inhabitants, as well as more active. My babies tend to move around at all times of day or night, and mostly ignore fish who move near them. Unless of course the fish is pestering them. Ones I've bought from LFS (local fish stores), tend to come out mostly at night, and are very shy. If a shadow or fish passes over them, they close themselves up tightly in their shells and stay that way for a bit before checking to see if the danger is gone.
Depending on what temperature you keep them at, Mystery snails will live between a year and a half to 4 years. The higher the temperature, the faster the metabolism and the faster they age. They will only get to be around 2-3inches, if they grow massively larger than that, you do not have a true mystery snail.
The best temperature to keep them at is between 65F and 82F. They will be more active the higher the temperature, as well as growing and eating faster. They are also more prone to reproducing when kept at higher temperatures.