The 7 Best Ways to Get Rid of Aquarium Pest Snails

Aquarium pest snails and beauty have one major thing in common — the eye of the beholder determines their worth. Many consider them unwanted little critters and want to get rid of all of them.

Others don’t mind them at all, appreciating the utility every snail brings. Yet others enjoy and cultivate the rarer breeds with gusto.

But what are they and are pest snails actually bad?

Pest snails aren’t intrinsically bad. Like any other snail, they clean the aquarium by consuming decaying plant matter, uneaten food, dead animals, and even fish poop. But they qualify as pests as they usually appear uninvited and can reproduce like crazy, covering a fish tank from top to bottom.

The latter is an extreme case but a massive snail population is not such a rarity. To compound the matter, removing them from your aquarium is a task that often advances at a snail’s pace and requires concentrated effort.

The seven most efficient ways to get rid of pest snails are:

  • Add fish that prey upon them
  • Add assassin snails
  • Put a snail trap
  • Handpick during maintenance
  • Lower food delivery
  • Clean the tank regularly to remove algae and any decaying matter that snails consume
  • Add copper to the water (mind, that will harm shrimp too)

None of the above tactics will work in isolation, with the exception of copper poisoning. However, copper will harm virtually all shrimp species and may be dangerous to delicate fish like kuhli loaches. It has other potential drawbacks, too.

But before we examine each approach in greater detail, let’s briefly touch upon what pest snails actually are and, crucially, how they reproduce.

What Are Pest Snails?

The three most common pest snail species in the fishkeeping world are:

  • Ramshorn (or ram’s horn) snail (Planorbella duryi)
  • Malaysian trumpet snail (Melanoides tuberculata)
  • Bladder snail (Physella acuta)
  • Pond snails (Lymnaea stagnalis)

To illustrate my initial point, I like Malaysian trumpet snails a lot, hate ramshorns, and am indifferent toward bladder snails. (I haven’t had pond snails yet, so can’t judge, but they look like bladder snails, just larger.) It’s all based on appearance, really, as they share most functional characteristics.

I have an entire guide on aquarium snails that dissects their differences in great detail. To keep things simple, here I break down the main characteristics all pest snails share.

How Do Snails Reproduce

All snails lay eggs. What makes pest snails particularly troublesome is the fact that they reproduce very fast and that snails reproduce asexually. In other words, a single snail can create offspring.

Ramshorns and bladder snails are hermaphrodites that have both male and female sexual organs.

Malaysian trumpet snails can’t change sex, but they don’t need a partner either, as parthenogenesis (the thing Virgin Mary supposedly achieved) is something they do regularly.

Snails are pretty amazing.

Pest Snail Pros

Pest snails are rather useful. They may look ugly to some and their numbers could create issues, but all snails:

  • Cleaning crew — Snails feed upon decaying matter like dead or dying leaves, dead fish, uneaten food, and fish poop even. They also consume various types of algae.
  • Overfeeding indicator — If your small snail population is exploding, you are likely overfeeding your tank. Overfeeding is one of the main errors buddying fishkeepers (and not only) commit, so having a clear visual clue helps ameliorate this.
  • Fish food — Small pest snails, especially ramshorns, are excellent snacks for a variety of fish species.
  • Breeding pest snails — Snails come in different forms. The brown ramshorn snails are the most prevalent, but there are also blue ramshorns. Malaysian trumpet snails (MTS) come in black, brown, or white shades, and even in creamy cones with brown-reddish spots and different patterns. Selling such interesting species or exchanging them in the local fish store is quite possible.

Pest Snails Cons

If they didn’t have cons, these snails wouldn’t be considered pests. But they have and they are.

  • Pest snails ruin the aquarium aesthetics — That’s the main thing, a large army of snails the crawl everywhere ruin the look of a carefully planned aquarium. Add to that that 
  • Very quick reproduction — You can get pest snails with a single hitchhiker that has snuck in on a new plant.
  • They consume the food of bottom feeders — Pest snails, especially when their numbers grow, will cover fully algae wafers, pellets, and vegetables designated for bottom feeders and shrimp, preventing them from eating well.
  • Pest snails can pollute the water — A large colony of snails will consume lots of decaying matter and fish poop, but they will produce their own waste that can pollute the water column.
  • Pest snails can clog filters — Canister intake tubes and other submersed filters often grow algae that attract snails. They can creep into powerheads and break their propellers. 
  • Dangerous for large fish — Large fish, particularly species that like to chew on gravel like goldfish, could swallow small snails and choke.

How to Get Rid of Aquarium Pest Snails

Each of the first six methods will help you control pest snail populations. If you want to remove them completely, it would be best to combine as many of these tactics as you can. Pest snails are persistent.

Arguably, the best way to keep your aquarium snail-free is prevention. Always rinse new plants thoroughly and examine the undersides of their leaves. Snail eggs are tiny and transparent, so they are hard to spot. Ideally, you should use a quarantine tank for any new plants, too.

A faster way to purify plants, more efficient than tap water, is to use disinfecting chemicals like a weak potassium permanganate or bleach solution. Always use gloves when working with such solutions.

Now, let’s check in detail the seven best ways to get rid of pest snails of any variety. At the end, there is a bonus method, too, but it is labor-heavy.

Reduce the Amount of Food, Increase Feeding Frequency

The best method to reduce pest snail infestations in your tank is by restricting their food. All four species mentioned here reproduce quickly, but the main engine for their profligacy is food. With unlimited access to food, pest snail populations will explode.

All other methods for reducing unwanted snails will be much more effective if the pests have limited food. Even ramshorn snails will struggle to overrun a fish tank when they aren’t eating well.

One way to reduce the food is to simply feed your fish less, but that may be unhealthy for the fish.

A safer approach is to split the feeding in two. Each time, feed the fish amounts of food that they consume in under two minutes. This way the fish will be happy, healthy, and colorful, whereas the pest snails will remain largely hungry.

Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t work all that well with many bottom feeders. Whern you use pellets or algae wafers, some food is guaranteed to reach the snails. Still, two small feedings instead of one big can alleviate the issue.

Also, using wafers and other large food chunks can be a direct way to remove pest snails.

Put a Snail Trap

You can buy a snail trap or make one yourself.

Essentially, they are receptacles for pest snails. It can be something as simple as a cut plastic bottle with holes or a small box.

Put an algae wafer or boiled vegetable like carrot or zucchini into the box and observe. Many pest snails will congregate quickly (for snails, anyway) to eat the vegetable. Malaysian trumpet snails are nocturnal critters, so an overnight trap is a good solution for removing many

Remove the trap, kill the snails. Be careful to chase away any fish that may be taking a bite too.

Repeat the process as many times as you wish.

Crushing the snails and feeding them back to the tank is free protein for your fish.

Add Fish That Eat Snails

Adding fish that eat snails on the regular is great for controlling their population.

Ramshorn snails in particular are excellent targets for cute and interesting species like Pakistani loach (also known as yoyo loach). However, Pakistani loaches (Botia almorhae) grow rather large, so they might not be ideal for any setup. Yoyo loaches are largely peaceful but could harass others of their kind or similarly-shaped fish.

Their smaller cousins the dwarf chain loach (Ambastaia sidthimunki) are a great choice for 20-gallon or 80-liter tanks. They are very active, like to hide, and need company to shoal together. They are excellent snail-eating nanofish that will add a lot of character to any aquarium.

Pea puffer is another amazing fish that will happily munch on unwanted snails. However, these tiny little fish can be very territorial and aggressive, so adding one to a community tank may be problematic.

Employ Assassin Snails

You can reinforce the pest-eating crew by adding assassin snails. Just like the Malaysian trumpet snails, they like to bury themselves in sandy substrates. However, they also like to eat other snails.

Ramshorn snails lack operculum (the protective “stopper” that seals their shell) and are easy targets, but even species with this extra protection aren’t immune to the assassin snails’ attacks.

What’s more, assassin snails look gorgeous!

The next two ways for reducing pet snails also relate to food, albeit indirectly.

Clean the Tank Regularly

Pest snails consume all kinds of debris. Their diet consists largely of certain types of algae, decaying plant matter, dead fish, and even fish poop. High-calorie fish food, in particular, can supercharge their reproduction, but even when you feed your fish a little bit twice a day, snails find energy sources.

That’s what makes them excellent cleaners and also very hard to get rid of.

Regular aquarium maintenance, with gravel siphoning and algae scraping, eliminates a major food source for the pest snails, hampering their reproduction. Siphoning removes a lot of decaying matter and poop.

Algae scarping reduces the algae pest snails like to eat, and it can also destroy snail eggs laid on the glass.

In the same vein…

Handpick During Maintenance

While scaping algae and adjusting hardscape, you can spend five minutes picking out snails.

Dropping a wafer or a vegetable during maintenance is another quick way to get rid of pest snails that are active during the day. MTS spend most of their daily hours buried in the sand, waiting for nightfall.

Copper Poisoning

There are pest snail killing products that poison the unwanted pests with copper. While effective, they can harm many other creatures in a community tank. Shrimp are particularly sensitive to copper and so are many fish like kuhli loach.

If you have a tank without shrimp or sensitive fish, blast it away with copper for a few weeks. But keep in mind that copper will stay in rocks and, quite possibly, the substrate. This would make it dangerous for shrimp in the long run, potentially even months after using copper.

Old coins could be a lower-risk way of using copper in your pest snail crusade. You can bury a copper coin or two in the substrate and observe for a couple of weeks to see whether fish or snails are experiencing discomfort.

If your fish start showing wear and tear, and other signs of stress, remove the coins. If snail babies start disappearing, maybe add another. The coins that will work must be made of copper, mostly. Many modern coins are zink-heavy and won’t work.

Whether it is DIY or through purchased chemicals, I would recommend copper poisoning as a last resort. Chemicals are best applied in a bare bottom tank, as copper will stick to most hardscape and can be a health hazard further down the road.

Copper coins are more gentle, but as with any DIY approach, it takes some trial and error to see the impact and correct mistakes. Start slowly, with a small coin.

Still, try the previous six methods — or any combination of them you can feasibly do — before resorting to copper products.

The Reset

The most drastic method that could work is a hard reset of the aquarium. Take all livestock out, put the plants in a separate container, and take the hardscape, including gravel or sand substrate.

Fish and shrimp will not have baby snails or snail eggs attached to them.

Plants and hardscape probably will.

Plants are more difficult to purify because they must be treated carefully. Clean the plants with a standard quarantine procedure:

  • Examine for eggs and baby pest snails.
  • Rinse thoroughly under running water.
  • Dip in 0.5% potassium permanganate solution or 1.5%-2% hydrogen peroxide solution for 1-3 minutes. Keep sensitive plants for a shorter time, repeat in a day or two, if needed.
  • Keep plants in as many quarantine vessels as possible. As long as they have light, most aquatic plants will do just fine in jars and plastic boxes for a few weeks. Sensitive plants may need setups with filtration and some form of substrate. Putting them in a quarantine pot is an easy solution.
  • Keep the quarantine going for at least six weeks.

As for the hardscape, one way to get rid of pest snails is by boiling everything.

Soaking everything in 1% potassium permanganate or 3% hydrogen peroxide solutions will also do the trick.

Then boil everything.

Dry it thoroughly.

Then it should be free of pest snails.

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