So, you bring home some aquatic plants, maybe you check them for snails, and then you place them in your fish tank.
Everything looks great.
Then, a couple weeks later, the snail-pocalypse starts; your tank is covered in small snails and more appear each day.
Where did they come from? How can these snails be removed?
Keep reading because those are the questions this article answers.
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How Do Snails Get in Fish Tanks?
Snails typically make their way into fish tanks by hitchhiking on plants.
Snail eggs and young snails—with almost translucent shells—are difficult to spot on aquatic plants.
Putting a new fish in your aquarium can also introduce snails, or snail eggs into your tank.
Sometimes the net used to catch the fish scoops up some snails or snails eggs, which then get introduced to your tank when the new fish is released into your aquarium.
The Types of Aquarium Snails That Breed A Lot
Some aquatic snails do not breed prolifically in home aquariums.
These types include Mystery Snails and Nerite Snails, both of which make excellent tank mates for fish like betta fish.
The snails that do breed prolifically, and become pests, include Pond Snails, Rams Horn Snails, and Trumpet Snails.
So, if one of these snails is taking over your aquarium, what is the best way to remove them?
How To Remove Aquarium Snails
1. Lure Them Out With Food
An easy and inexpensive way to remove snails is to place something they like to eat in the tank, let them gather on the food item, and then remove the item with the snails still attached.
The way I do it is to blanch (lightly boil) a slice of zucchini ,or some spinach leaves, and then let that sit at the bottom of the tank for a couple hours (or even overnight).
Then, when it looks like my zucchini slice, or spinach leaf, is covered with snails, I remove it.
2. Snail Eating Fish
Another option for removing snails is to let a fish do it.
This is an effective method, but keep in mind that certain snail eating tropical fish may not be suitable tank mates for any existing fish living in your aquarium.
The best snail eating fish are:
Loaches are snail specialists and will hunt down snails, large and small, all over the tank.
Loaches will even dig into the substrate, and root out snails hiding in the gravel.
Loaches are my favorite way to remove snails because they are fascinating to watch and no extra effort is needed on my part.
My favorite loaches for snail removal are Kuhli Loaches and Zebra Loaches.
Some people recommend Clown Loaches, and I love they way they look, but Clown Loaches get huge, reaching a length of about 12 inches.
Only aquarists with massive aquariums should consider Clown Loaches.
For those of us with smaller tanks, consider one of these more reasonably sized loaches:
1) Kuhli Loach (3-5 inches)
2) YoYo Loach (2.5-5 inches)
3) Dwarf Chain Loach (2-2.5 inches)
B) Freshwater Puffer Fish
Puffer fish are snail-killing machines.
Puffer fish have powerful beaks that can crush snail shells (unlike loaches which tend to suck snails out of their shells).
Puffer fish are considered challenging fish so don’t buy one simply to remove snails.
Puffers require special diets and must typically be kept alone or in species only tanks due to being aggressive toward other tropical fish and invertebrates.
If keeping a freshwater puffer fish is your dream, consider starting with Pea Puffers (Carinotetraodon travancoricus), which only reach about 1-1.5 inches and are less demanding than their larger cousins.
Letting snails breed in your other aquariums, and then feeding them to your Pea Puffers is a great way to benefit both/all your tanks.
C) Other Snail Eating Fish
Betta fish, Goldfish, and Gouramis get honorable mentions.
While these fish will occasionally eat snails, they do not seem to actively search for them and so the snail population is rarely in danger of decreasing with these fish in the tank.
3. Assassin Snails (Clea Helena)
Assassin Snails are like wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing.
They look like regular snails, but hunt their own kind.
A group of Assassin Snails can significantly reduce, or eliminate, a population of pest snails in a couple weeks.
Assassin Snails are widely available and relatively affordable.
If you want to learn about how Assassin Snails find their prey, and how they eat other snails, check out the video below (it’s not my video, but it’s very informative):
4. Snail Removal Tool
There is only one snail removal tool that has impressed me.
Most of the others I’ve tried are gimmicky and ineffective.
The tool that actually works is called the Dennerle Snail Catcher.
If you see snails on sitting on the glass, just drag the tool over them and they will be pushed into a trap.
If you want to see a visual demonstration, check out this video (again it’s not my video):
The Dennerle Snail Catcher tool is perfect for those who want to humanely remove snails from an aquarium, and transfer them to a different tank or pond to live their best lives:
5. Limit Food
Snails need food to multiply.
So, starving them out is also a potential snail removal solution.
First, if you have fish in the tank, make sure any extra food is siphoned away so the snails can’t get to it.
Second, remove any plants from the tank and put them in a different tank or jar.
Third, keep your tank as free from algae as possible; this will eliminate another source of food for the snails.
Keep doing those three things and the explosion of snails will gradually begin to dwindle.
This is not my favorite method because it requires constant attention and effort.
But, if snails only bother you a little bit, it’s not a bad solution for bringing the snail population down to a reasonable level.
The last snail removal solution on this list is to use commercial snail killers designed for aquariums.
Adding chemicals to your tank is not recommended because they will kill off other beneficial invertebrates (especially tiny ones you can’t even see).
Fish, shrimp, and plants may also suffer, so avoid using chemicals as a snail removal solution unless pest snails are the only living creatures in your tank.
Are there any reasons to keep pest snails in an aquarium?
Removing aquarium snails is the goal of most aquarists who experience a snail infestation.
But, for some aquarists an explosion of aquarium snails can be beneficial.
Aquarium snails, including pest snails, are great at eating algae and cleaning up extra food that falls to the bottom of the tank.
And, overtime, pest snail populations stabilize, especially if you decrease how much you feed your aquarium fish.
Pest aquarium snails are also useful if you plan to keep snail-loving fish, like loaches and puffers.
Having a steady supply of snails for these fish is an easy and effective way to supplement their diets.
A snail infestation in your aquarium can be stressful, but before you start dosing your tank with snail killing chemicals, consider one of the other snail removal options mentioned above, like luring them out with boiled zucchini.
The best snail removal solution for your tank will depend largely on how the size of your specific tank.
For smaller tanks like 5 gallons and 10 gallons, getting a group of Assassin Snails is an excellent choice.
For larger tanks (20+ gallons), a group of loaches works well for snail removal.
So, think carefully before picking the best snail removal solution for your aquarium.
If you are new to the aquarium hobby, or want to learn more about planted aquariums, check out my article on getting started with planted tanks.