Aquarium Snails Care: Tank Setup, Food, Medication, Breeding

Snails are excellent additions to most aquariums. They are great cleaners, have interesting personalities, and most species are beautiful.

Regardless of species-specific variables, the optimum tank conditions for aquarium snails share many similarities. Here they are in a nutshell:

  • Proper tank setup — Temperature, filter, substrate, and the rest are crucial for taking good care of aquarium snails
  • Supplements — Often, calcium and mineral supplements are necessary for strong shells
  • Diet — Most snails eat more than you think
  • Tankmates — Fish that don’t eat or pester snails are a must

These are the basic aspects of aquarium snail care. Master them and you will have success with virtually any kind of aquatic snail. With optimal conditions, you could end up breeding them, if you so desire.

However, in this guide, we’ll discuss how to medicate snails, how to diagnose them, and how to dispose of unwanted or dead snails.

Let’s go!

Ideal Tank Setup for Aquarium Snails

The ideal tank conditions for aquatic snails are fairly consistent among species. The specifics for each species must be checked, too, but the overall setup outlined below should comfortably house any freshwater snail.

Prepare the setup before you buy snails. Give it enough time to establish the nitrogen cycle. Some snails could survive in uncycled tank, but testing their limits is a bad idea.


When planning your tank to house snails. the main variable is water temperature, but even here there are many commonalities.

Generally, the colder the water, the slower the snail growth is. Colder temperature (of course, within the species’ tolerance limits) slows down the snail metabolism. This allows their shells to grow thicker and stronger, as shells grow more slowly than the actual snail.

On top of that, it can extend the snail’s life.

Different snails have different ideal water temperatures. Rabbit snails like it warmer than mystery snails, but the general rule of thumb holds: colder water often results in a stronger shelf and longer lifespan.


Snails of all kinds are sensitive to polluted water. Pest snails like ramshorn are more resilient than others, but you need good quality water to keep your snails alive and happy.

A decent filter helps a lot in that regard. The only thing to consider is the filter intake. You may have to cover it with a piece of sponge or bandage to prevent snails from creeping in and blocking (or breaking) the filter.

That’s particularly necessary if you have baby snails.

Otherwise, a filter of any kind will do, as long as it is powerful enough to keep your tank clear.

Water Chemistry

Snails like more basic water. pH levels below 6.5 will erode their shells, as the acidity of the water column takes its toll.

General water hardness (GH) also helps maintain healthy shells, while carbonate hardness (KH) shows the level of mineralization in the water column. Higher mineralization promotes shell growth and thickness and also prevents pH swings.

Aim for harder, basic water to have healthy snails.


For most snail species, a finer substrate would do better. Sand is better than pebbles or gravel, as it allows snails to sift through it more easily. All aquarium snails are scavengers that actively look for food, but very few are strong or small enough to dig through gravel.

Certain species need sand. The Malaysian trumpet snail likes to burrow underneath during the day and crawls out in the cover of darkness. Very fine gravel could also work for them.

Rabbit snails also like to sift through mouthfuls of sand.

Sand has many benefits for plants and certain fish, too, and it is the most suitable substrate for snails, but if you plan on keeping nerite snails or mystery snails, any substrate will do.


Aquarium lights are more important for the plants in the tank. Virtually all aquarium snails have poor eyesight and won’t benefit that greatly from intense light.

Still, install medium or strong light, as sudden shadow shifts and changes in light patterns alert the snails to potential dangers.

Keep in mind that nerite snails and Malaysian trumpet snails are predominantly nocturnal creatures so light matters not at all.


Contrary to popular belief, aquarium snails don’t eat healthy plants. The exception is the rabbit snail who likes to munch on Java ferns.

Practically all species will eat decaying or sick plant leaves, though. That’s why plants and snails have a good synergy, but live plants aren’t really necessary to make snails happy.

I love having plants in my tanks as they add a bunch of benefits to the setup, but snails can live with a substrate-only or bare bottom tank just as easily.

Calcium Supplements

If your water is too soft, the snails may need calcium supplements to grow and maintain their shells. There are several ways to get enough calcium and minerals in the water column.

  • Crushed coral — Crushed coral mixtures are sold commercially. They increase the pH and KH, and snails will welcome that. If you don’t like their bright color, you can put the crushed coral in a bag in the filtration system or bury it under the top substrate layer. The crushed coral will last you about a year before it exhausts its water-buffering capabilities.
  • Crushed eggshells — Eggshells have plenty of calcium. They can go into the aquarium raw or boiled. Since the egg membrane has to be removed, I prefer boiling them first — it makes the removal that much easier. Once the membrane (the majority of it anyway, a few flakes won’t be fatal) is removed, the shells must be crushed. Mortar and pestle, food procession, or even bare hands (with care) can take care of that task. Similarly to the coral mixtures, you can put the crushed shells directly in the tank or a bag. The latter makes it easier to remove them and also provides more opportunities for putting the shells out of sight.
  • Cuttlebone — Cuttlebones look pretty and introduce some calcium to the water column. However, if your tank is bigger than 20 liters or 5 gallons, you will need a lot of cuttlebones to provide the necessary calcium. Also, they are not so readily available in the stores.

These three are the most common ways to deliver calcium to your snails. I like the eggshells as they are virtually free (I have chickens in my yard) and do the trick but crushed coral is very effective too. 

Feeding Your Aquarium Snails

Often, fishkeepers or storekeepers claim that the aquarium snails need no extra food. They are scavengers who roam around the tank in search of decaying leaves and uneaten fish food.

All the same, all snails will benefit from some special feeding. That’s particularly true for elephants and apple snails, who grow quite large, but mystery snails and nerites also like to eat a lot.

See, snails have inefficient digestive systems that cannot extract useful calories from the food they scavenge. Not to mention that a lot of the food lying around is garbage.

That’s why blanched vegetables and the occasional algae wafer are excellent additions to their diet.

Zucchini or cucumber slices can be boiled for 3-4 minutes and then thrown into icy water. This process will soften them and, hopefully, make them sink to the bottom. In case the slices remain floating, you can tie them with a rubber band to a stone or another hardscape element.

Spinach and baby spinach leaves can be steeped in boiled water for a minute or so and also put in the tank.

Whatever veggies you prepare, make sure to remove them within 24 hours. They will start rotting in the tank, fouling the water.

Of course, algae wafers work fine too. Snails eat a bit like plecos, so any vegetarian wafer will do.

Now, overfeeding snails is also a possibility. If they eat a lot, they will start reproducing. This can be particularly troublesome with the so-called pest snails like ramshorn or bladder snails, but the mystery snails also can breed relatively quickly.

Getting completely rid of pest snails is a tall order but controlling their numbers is fairly easy. Don’t feed them and feed the fish less. If you have pest snails, it is better to feed the tank twice a day with small doses of food rather than once with a larger amount.

Breeding Aquarium Snail

Breeding snails is something many people want to avoid, yet many others want to achieve. Breeding is also the aspect in which aquarium snails differ the most. Some species are hermaphrodites that can reproduce at will, others are with defined sex and require special conditions.

The common theme among all species is the need for food. Well-fed snails are much more likely to multiply.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how to breed the most popular aquarium snails:

  • Nerite snail — They are with fixed sex and need brackish or salty water to reproduce. That makes them relatively hard to breed, as you might need a separate tank for them.
  • Mystery snail — They lay eggs in an egg cone above the water line. Lower the water level to provide them enough space for that. Mystery snails have fixed sex, too, so you need at least one pair. Young females lay 50-100, older individuals can double that number.
  • Rabbit snail — Rabbit snails also have fixed sex. They are live-bearers who can give birth to one (rarely two) new, fully-formed snails every couple of weeks. To learn more about their reproductive cycle, click here.
  • Malaysian trumpet snailMTS can multiply fairly easily. Feed them well and watch them spawn. Even a single snail can start a colony.
  • Ramshorn snail — Considered by many a pest snail, ramshorn snails are prolific breeders. Food is the main way to control their numbers.
  • Bladder snail — Another pest snail that can multiply from a single little snail, lower or increase their food to control the population.

There is more to breeding aquarium snails but food, clean water, and places for the baby snails to hide are key to success.

Check out the guides linked above for additional information on breeding the species you want.


All aquarium snails — besides the assassin snail — are peaceful creatures who won’t bother other livestock. However, many fish will happily nibble on snails, if given the chance.

Here are a few species to avoid:

  • Yoyo loaches, gouramis, puffers, most cichlids, and some catfish are notorious snail munchers.
  • Betta fish is hit or miss. Some individuals don’t care at all, others think the snail antennae are worms and attack them.

Suitable tankmates include:

  • All caridina and neocaridina shrimp
  • Corydoras
  • Tetras
  • Danios
  • Plecos
  • Ottocinclus
  • Barbus
  • Guppies
  • Mollies
  • Swordtails

Adding snails to your tank imposes some restrictions on the species of fish you can keep, but the available variety is still plentiful.

Acclimating New Snails

Adding new snails to the tank follows the same steps as adding new fish.

  • Put the bag with snails in the tank for 25 minutes to achieve the same temperature in both the bag and water column.
  • Over the course of these 25 minutes, add a bit of water from the tank to the bag. Do this four times and by the end of it, the water in the bag should be at least 60% aquarium water. This reduces the risk of a pH shock.
  • Once the 25 minutes are up, pick the snails by hand and drop them into the tank.
  • Dispose of the bag and its water.

Don’t worry if the snails aren’t overly active at first. Very often, they need a few hours — or days, as apple snails do — in the new environment before venturing forth.

Sickness and Medication

Snails don’t have that many ailments but are sensitive to certain medications that are perfectly safe for fish.

The most common problems are related to fragile shells and operculum. To address those, add calcium supplements and feed the snails protein, as the operculum is almost entirely protein.

Cracked shells are signs that the snails are struggling and often the damage is irreversible.

Now, as far as medications are concerned, all snails besides the nerites are highly intolerant toward salt. Even low doses can be fatal.

But the real killer is copper. While not quite as sensitive as shrimp, snails also suffer mightily from copper medications and will likely die.

Antibiotics like methylene blue, are safe to use.

How to Dispose of Dead Snails

Sometimes, snails stay inactive for days on end.

The best way to discern whether they live or die is to smell them. Dead snails reek of decay and it is obvious when they have perished. Obvious and mighty unpleasant.

The thing is that their foul smell lingers. It can make your fingers stink for hours. It is better to use gloves or pincers to take them out of the water to smell them. Have a plastic bag handy, so that you can drop them into it right away, before tossing them in the garbage bin.

Another tell-tale sign of dead snails is their operculum. A dead snail cannot close its shell, and the operculum, the trap door of their homes, hangs loosely open.

Aquarium Snails Are Awesome

Other than the foul smell of a dead snail, these gastropods are excellent additions to any aquarium. Rabbit snails are the favorite friends of most shrimp, nerite snails destroy algae, and Malaysian trumpet snails dig the substrate, preventing the buildup of dangerous gases.

Indeed, some snails can explode in population, but with more stringent feeding that shouldn’t be an issue.

Snails have quirky, derpy behavior, and adorable personalities.

Give them a try!

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