As a student, my teachers kept telling me how procrastinating will some day ruin my life.
It turned out they were right, but I had to go through a bad case of snail infestation in my aquarium in order to learn my lesson.
While aquarium snails aren’t always a cause of concern, they can easily turn into a living nightmare if you ignore them long enough.
Apart from being an unpleasant sight, pest snails can affect some bottom feeders and even clog your tank’s filter.
In this post, I’ll tell you how to deal with these uninvited guests so you can avoid any further complications.
How to get rid of a pest snail infestation in an aquarium?
From my experience, I learned that the best way to deal with a snail infestation in an aquarium is to manually remove them.
If that doesn’t work, you can try setting up a snail trap or adding snail-eating fish to your tank.
Using chemical treatment is also an option, but I personally wouldn’t recommend it.
But first things first, it’s important to know that having some snails in your fish tank is not necessarily a bad thing. In small populations, big snails can help regulate algae growth, aerate the substrate and get rid of uneaten fish food.
That’s why every once in a while, I intentionally add Assassin snails, Nerite, or Mystery snails to my freshwater fish tanks. They are not a bother as long as they don’t reproduce too fast or leave unsightly eggs that will never hatch in the aquarium.
The problem is, some types of snails, and mostly the small ones such as the Malaysian Trumpet Snail, are prolific breeders. Before you know it, they may overrun your fish tank and cause an out-of-control infestation. This is what makes them a nuisance.
A snail infestation typically happens when you overfeed your fish. The excess food attracts pesky pests and encourages them to reproduce.
Remember that nothing goes to waste in an aquarium.
If there’s any surplus, either the fish will overeat or a pest such as snails will take advantage of it.
Neither option is good for your aquarium system.
Anyway, here are practical ways to deal with the pest snail infestation in your fish tank:
Scoop the snails with your hands
Manually and humanely remove the snails with your hand whenever you spot them.
Simply pick them out one by one and put them in a container for relocation.
If they are small enough, you can use a siphon hose to pull and suck them up into a bucket.
This is best done during water changes.
Naturally removing snails with your hands is, perhaps, the easiest and safest method of dealing with an infestation.
You don’t need any specialized tools to pull it off, and no snails get harmed in the process.
On the other hand, it can be quite annoying since many snails are nocturnal.
You may find it harder to locate them for removal during the day.
Therefore, your best bet is to wait until it’s nighttime when they typically get out of hiding.
Some species – particularly Ramshorn snails, Bladder, and Pond snails – use lungs to breathe. Because of this, they often have to go to the surface for some air.
You can pick them up with your hand once they get to the aquarium’s waterline.
If they are too many, you may use a net to scoop them from the fish tank’s glass.
Don’t forget to do the same for any visible snail eggs.
Otherwise, it won’t take long before you’re hit with another wave of newborn invaders.
Set up a snail trap
Another great way to get rid of aquarium snails is using a snail bait and trap.
In using this method, I discovered that zucchini, lettuce, and cucumber make the best bait, but that will generally depend on what’s the natural diet of your pest snails.
You can typically get a read-made snail trap from any pet store or even online. However, I find it more practical to build my own.
Here are quick step-by-step instructions to create your own DIY snail trap:
- Take a half-liter (16 fl. Oz.) bottle, remove the cap, and cut its top.
- Put some zucchini, lettuce, or cucumber inside the cut bottle.
- Push the bottle in the tank’s substrate, turned upside-down (the “entrance” of the trap should be slightly buried).
- Leave it in your fish tank overnight.
This is best done right before nighttime when snails naturally come out of hiding. They will bunch up on the “free” food, making it easy for you to humanely remove them along with the trap.
Do this repeatedly until there are no more snails, or until their number is too low to cause concern.
By morning, the bottle will be full of small snails that you can easily remove and relocate.
Some baits that work well, aside from the veggies I mentioned above are:
- Commercial algae wafers
- Commercial snail food
- Anything designed to be eaten by aquarium shrimp
Anyhow, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that snails can affect a local ecosystem.
Therefore, be mindful of where you release the pesky intruders.
You don’t want them invading another body of water…
My advice: Contact animal control or animal removers for advice on the best way to release or relocate snails that are potentially invasive.
Add snail-eating fish species to your tank
Snail-eating fish will feed on pest snails and control their population in your fish tank.
On the surface, this looks like a no-brainer.
And while it’s a viable way to fix a snail infestation, things are a bit more complicated than that. Before introducing a predator fish for snail control, you will want to do enough research to ensure that the new fish you bring in is compatible with the ones you already have in your tank.
Some fish species that are capable of killing and eating snails may have a different temperament from the ones you have in your aquarium.
Needless to say, mixing them would be a bad idea.
Nonetheless, some snail-eating fish species include:
- almora loach
- polka dot loach
- dwarf botia
- tiger botia
- pygmy sunfish
Although loaches will always remain great snail eaters, a hungry goldfish can do wonders too. If your aquarium setup allows for it, any of these 18 fish and invertebrates can help you get rid of the pesky snails inside.
Author’s note: It’s not uncommon for snail-eating fish to seem disinterested in eating snails at first. If you notice this, try squishing a few snails inside the fish tank, using your fingers. This may pique the interest of your predator fish and spark its appetite for the remaining snails.
Yes, squishing snails may seem unnatural and inhumane to some, so only do it if you are okay with that.
And don’t squish many at once because the fish may not be able to eat them all.
You’ll be left with an aquarium full of dead snails, which can spoil the water’s quality.
Don’t overfeed your fish
by Fish Folk
Overfeeding your fish will likely lead to leftover food in the aquarium. Most aquatic pest snails have no problem surviving off of uneaten fish food.
One way to fix the problem is to give your fish just enough food so that there is no surplus for pest snails.
A good rule of thumb is to feed your fish portions that they can finish in 3 minutes.
Watch them eat and make sure that there are no leftovers. In case there are any, remove them quickly and slightly reduce the portions next time. Underfeeding your pet fish will always be better for the whole system than overfeeding them.
Otherwise, food particles may build up in the substrate.
Alongside attracting unwanted pests like snails, food deposits can also create deadly ammonia.
Therefore, feeding your fish just enough food is a great way to deal with the issue of snails and harmful compounds at the same time.
Author’s note: Take time to figure out how much food to feed your fish. This is usually a trial-and-error process, but in the end, you can know the ideal portions pretty accurately. Here’s a guide that may help.
Use a chemical treatment (not the best method)
This involves using snail-killer chemicals to get rid of the unwanted invertebrates.
Once the snails are dead, you should dispose of their carcasses.
Right off the bat:
I don’t recommend this method of snail removal.
Only use it as a last resort when you have tried everything else to no success.
In any case, the best chemical for killing snails in an aquarium is copper sulfate.
While in the right dosage it is, by and large, safe for fish, this method of treatment can be harmful to other habitants of a fish tank.
These include plants and shrimp (if you have any).
Another downside of chemical treatment is that copper tends to linger in the fish tank for weeks.
There will be traces of it even after you clean the tank several times.
This can be quite overwhelming for copper-sensitive organisms, and many of them simply won’t survive.
What has caused the snail infestation in your fish tank?
Snails and their eggs often hitchhike into a fish tank on stems and leaves of new aquarium plants.
When you bring these plants home, you inevitably transfer the snail(s) into your fish tank.
Beyond that, snail eggs can also find their way into a fish container from the pet store.
This often happens if pieces of plants and substrate are scooped along with the fish and water.
No matter how diligent an aquaculture facility or pet store is, it’s just not practical and possible to identify and remove every trace of a snail, larvae, and eggs.
That’s the beauty of nature – it will always find a way; at times at your expense.
Once in the aquarium, some snail species tend to reproduce at a fast rate – more so if there’s plenty of food.
And this is what leads to a snail infestation.
When baby snails appeared in my fish tank as if from nowhere, I did some research and found that using tissue culture plants may lower the risk of an infestation.
That’s one way to control the presence and reproduction of snails in an aquarium.
How to prevent future pest snail infestations?
To keep snails out of your fish tank, always check that there’s nothing else in the bag whenever you buy new fish and aquarium plants.
Besides, treat the live aquarium plants by soaking them before adding them to your fish tank.
You can create your very own by adding 1 cup of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide and 2 cups of water.
After your solution is done just do the following to kill any pest snails AND eggs hitchhiking on your plant:
- Soak the new plant in the solution for about 15 minutes.
- Rinse it with clean water. You can use tap.
- After the rinse, soak it in a different container with water and add a dechlorinating water conditioner. Wait for 5 minutes for the dechlorinator to do its job.
- Add the disinfected plant into your main aquarium.
In case you want something a bit stronger, consider using one part of bleach mixed with nineteen parts of water.
In that case, soak the plant in the solution for only about 10 minutes before air drying it and eventually introducing it in your fish tank.
Unlike bleach, Hydrogen Peroxide breaks down to water and oxygen when exposed to light, so I personally prefer using it for disinfecting my new plants. For the bleach solution make sure you use gloves and even protective goggles.
Finally, some aquarists advocate dipping new live plants in saltwater solutions.
While it is true that salt will irritate aquatic snails, in my experience, it’s not potent enough to completely get rid of them and their eggs.
Here are some other ways to prevent pest snails from infesting your aquarium:
- Vacuum the substrate to clean any leftover fish food. These are later eaten by the snails which in turn helps them reproduce.
- Do not overfeed your fish.
- Soak all new plants in a Hydrogen Peroxide or a bleach solution to kill off snails as well as their eggs and larvae.
My Final Words
If you are a longtime aquarist or are planning to be one, chances are you have either experienced or will experience a snail infestation in your aquarium.
It’s almost inevitable.
But dealing with it doesn’t need to be hard and frustrating.
I, for one, have found that scooping snails from the tank and using traps are two of the easiest and most humane methods of dealing with these pesky pests.