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Author Topic: A Beginers Guide To Snails  (Read 18689 times)
daveedka
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« on: August 25, 2006, 08:52:44 PM »

Snails !!!!!!

I thought I?d type up a little blurb simply because we get so many questions on the boards. this is a beginners guide and probably won't prove excitingly useful to most folks with some experience. In Advance I would like to say that the following two article links will provide much more complete information, and are well worth the time to read. Most of what I know this far about snails came from these two articles, and the subsequent experience of owning snails since reading the articles. As far as species of snails I don?t have experience with, I will list the little I do know, and leave the rest up for grabs by more experienced individuals.


http://www.aquasource.org/CMS/modul...artid=58&page=1
http://www.aquasource.org/CMS/modul...rtid=118&page=1

The great snail Saga
When I was young My brother and I looked at some really awesome snails in the lfs tank and talked about getting one. We were informed by the LFS owner that it was a bad idea, snails would take over our tank, eat our fish, crawl out all over Mom?s living room carpet, stink, steal, get drunk and wreck the car, drain our bank account and run off with our sister. It was made very clear to us that these critters were an absolute plague that couldn?t be stopped if they ever got into our home. The owner of the LFS was sorry he had ever recieved them. We even gave up on any ideas we had of raising live plants because of the fear that this plague would come in unnoticed and wipe out our wonderful home and Family. Thus I avoided snails for the next 16 years or so.
A couple of years ago when I finally had a chance to set my tanks back up after a long, but necessary fish tank free period, I decided I wanted a more natural approach. No more Black gravel, no oddball d?cor, just natural stone, driftwood, and live plants. I have always raised guppies for my Oscars and intended to do so this time as well, but wanted to add some variety to my home grown live food storage and snails fit the bill for the Oscar, Dempsey and firemouth. So I eventually got on the internet and started asking about how to control a snail population so I could have some for fish food, and still not have my house wrecked by their prolific breeding habits. Boy did I get a surprise. Mr. Ricketts linked his above articles, I read them and of course my first thought was that this guy must be off his rocker. Mr Ricketts obviously didn?t know what he was talking about, and I received a lot of information that verified this. While he may be off his rocker, he does know quite a bit about snails, but I had just met him so to speak and didn?t trust him a bit. So in the spirit of investigation, I went ahead and put some pond snails in my tank while it was being cycled. Knowing full well that a Dempsey and firemouth would be going in that tank right away, I was confident the plague would be stopped by two hungry cichlids who prefer crustaceans in their diet. True to form the snails reproduced at an alarming rate, but that was O.K. since I did several things wrong with my fishless cycle (I.e. added plants right off with 5ppm ammonia and lots of light) there was so much algea in the tank especially on my plants that I really needed the snails in there to control it. Imagine my surprise when I came home from work one day and all of my algea was gone, my plants looked great. There were of course hundreds of snails in this 115g tank by now, and they ate every bit of algea in sight. So the day finally came, and I added the firemouth and the dempsey. After about an hour of being shy, they started hunting, and they kept hunting and they hunted until I thought they were going to explode. But of course there were still plenty of snails. So I thought the prolific breeding would out compete the appetites of my two baby 1? cichlids. Nope, nothing outcompetes the appetite of a Cichlid (at least nothing in my tank has). So eventually the snails were gone, the algae came back, and I started learning about balancing nutrients and light, and also found out that fishless cycling with the lights on will quickly make an algae expert out of you, but that was past history and was probably worth the lesson.
Meanwhile the guppy tank got set up, cycled and I planted it and added snails as well. They did not breed prolifically at all. In fact I could hardly find any eggs, and it didn?t seem that I would ever get enough snails to provide food for my cichlids. I was anticipating only feeding snails once a month at the most unless I got a 300 gallon tank and filled it with plants, (not a bad idea, but my Wife wouldn?t be too happy) so I started upping the food levels. It actually took work for me to keep these guys breeding. I added Red ramshorns and MTS?s to my list of critters, and observed them as well. In the last year I have come to realise two major things. The First is that there are far too many unjustifiable myths about snails, the second is these little critters are the best friends I have in my plant tanks hands down. So now enough of my little adventure, here are the basic facts about snails, a beginners guide so to speak.
So many people are absolutely scared away from these little friends of the aquarium, and I hope this article helps to shed some light on the truth. The only logical reason I have found to avoid snails is if you simply dislike the look of snails. Otherwise they are an awesome addition that prove to be very beneficial in most tanks.


First of all lets talk about the basic hitchhikers you will get with your plants.

The most common is the pond snails. They are a small sort of football shaped snail, that are said to get as big as 3/4 inch, the biggest I have yet to see was under 1/2 inch though. I have not seen a pond snail anywhere that would eat a live plant. They are excellent algae eaters, and will reproduce at a very small size. They lay eggs in a gelatin clump, there really is no form or pattern to the clump of eggs that I can see, the eggs are transparent at first, but then turn whitish as they grow. When the babies hatch any that escape your fish will virtually disappear into the substrate and emerge at night to feed until their shells get stronger and they grow a bit. Pond snails are hermaphrodites meaning they have both male and female organs. It does take two to tango, but once they have danced, an individual will stay fertilized for some time and continue reproduction. for this reason 1 individual can populate a tank easily
The next most common hitchhiker is the common ramshorn AKA Red ramshorn. There seems to be mass confusion about the ramshorn name, and it is largely due to the columbian Ramshorn which will be mentioned later. Red Ramshorns are my absolute fovorite snail to watch and own. They are comical, efficient, and IMO a pretty snails. They are plant friendly in every way you can imagine really. I can pull an algea covered annubia plant out of my 115g and drop it in my 10g and the next morning every inch of that annubia will be squeaky clean and bright. No algea and no damage to the plant. My red rams get as big as ? inch in diameter. This make them much better than pond snails as a food source because they are bigger. they are shaped in a curl just like the horn of a ram (go figure) mine range in color from light beige to deep dark Oxblood red. I have browns, some that are almost crimson, and even a few speckled ones. These snails believe it or not will walk the underside of the water in a still tank. It?s a really cool thing to see, and happens a lot in my tanks which are now kept perfectly still to prevent Co2 exchange.
Ramshorn eggs are similar to pond snails with a couple of distinctive differences. The first is the shape. Rather than a blob wth egg upon egg, the ramshorns eggs are more of a flat sheet with a definate pattern and no eggs on top of any other eggs. As the babies grow, they darken a bit so they do not appear white when born as the pond snails do, but more of a beige or yellow in color. Ramshorns are very prolific although I would say they aren?t as prolific as the pond snails. They need to be fairly large to reproduce it seems so unlike the pond snails you will want to avoid taking all of the big ones out at once.
Like pond snails common ramshorn are hermaphrodites and if you bring home one old enough to reproduce it will usually make many
Next is the Malaysian trumpet snail. Highly touted as a substrate loosener, and as far as I know, there isn?t a myth about their plant friendliness. They seem to be regarded by all as plant safe. MTS?s also have an operculum Or essentially a trap door that covers the end of their shell when they go inside. This protects them from predation, and can even protect them from chemical warfare. These snails are supposedly next to impossible to kill. They will burrow into the substrate as deeply as O2 will allow (that?s not really very deeply without undergravel filtration), and come out at night to eat. You really don?t know how many you have until you sneak in at 2:00 am and flip on the room lights. This nocturnal behavior seems to me to go hand in hand with predation, and not be a completely natural activity. In tanks with non-predatory fish, my MTS?s stay out in the daylight a lot. Furthermore the tanks that I got them from at the LFS tend to always have a good number of snails on display even in the middle of the day. There are a couple of downsides or maybe advantages to MTS?s. the first is that they are painfully slow at everything, they move slow, they grow slow, they eat slow, they burrow slow, and they reproduce slow. They do not have an external egg stage, but essentially give birth to fully formed clones one at a time very slowly. One is all it takes and furthermore if I understand it correctly, Males don?t exist or are really scarce. Because of their slow nature, it seems to take a lot of them to clean anything. Because of their noctuornal habits, a lot of them isn?t an aesthetic problem. You don?t see them all that often, so folks who don?t like the look of snails may still benefit from MTS?s.


Now my big snails:
I recently purchased six mystery snails for the cichlid tank. Mystery snails are a member of the apple snail family. They get big, really big by snail standards, and therefore I felt they had a chance of surviving my now juvenile (size and attitude both) Dempsey and Firemouth. The primary problem with mystery snails is identification. The primary problem with all other types of apple snails is that they eat plants. So if you buy a mystery snail and the person who sold it was wrong about it?s species, your plants will suffer greatly. I knew this going in, so I was prepared to sort. I bought three black and three gold mysteries, and brought them home to my Q-tank which doubles as a spare plant and snail tank. All of the plants in this tank are duplicates of my other two tanks, so the most I stood to lose was a few weeks worth of growout plants. I installed the mystery snails and all was well for two days. Then the cucumber ran out, and the microsword started disappearing as if a herd of sheep were loose in the tank. The Java fern (yes Java even) began getting thinner and shorter with really rough edges. So on a hunch I separated the gold from the black snails. The black snails ate no plants, the gold continued to munch away on everything green. So I found a non planted home for the golds, and put the black mysteries in my Cichlid tank for test #2. They were large enough that the dempsey seemed to ignore them completely. They are currently happily residing in the 115g tank and eating algae and other waste as fast as they can. Even my Oscar which is now close to 9? totally ignores the mystery snails. Cichlids seem to have a complete understanding of what is and isn?t too big to eat, and don?t bother with anything too large for them. They do not pick at or harrass the mystery snails at all.

Apple snails are one I have not kept except for the short QT period mentioned above and of course the mystery snails which are of the same family. I have seen these guys larger than a baseball in other tanks, and they are truly awesome to watch. Al but Mysteries will eat your plants, I have not had anyone argue this point at all, although some folks claim if they are provided with fresh veggies they will eat them instead and leave the plants alone. If they run short on other food, they will quickly turn to your plants. All snails seem to have a huge appetite, and apple snails are big, so they tend to eat like pigs if provided with a food source.
All members of the apple snail family (as far as I know) Breathe air from the surface. they travel to the top of the tank, and actually have what I would call a snorkel that they reach up with. you can see them expand and contract as they fill their Lungs (?) with air. Then they return to eating or hiding or whatever the activity of the moment may be.
Apple snails require a pair to reproduce, and lay their eggs above the surface in a moist area. If the eggs are submersed, the babies will drown, likewise if they dry out they will die. On this same note, there have been a few people who unknowingly drowned their apple snails by not leaving anywhere for them to get air from. Leave space between tank and lid for these guys (you should leave space anyhow). I have been repeatedly told that Apple snails of all types will climb out of you tank if it isn?t covered well. I have not had this problem in QT or in the big tank, but would say that it is good warning to heed. Don?t leave them room to go for a walk. I did have one of the gold snails climb out of their isolation tank and back into the main tank. There was at least three inches of air above the water in the iso tank they were in. I have seen on the boards that apple snails can close their shell and literally live for weeks without being in the water. There has been more than one person find an apple snail under the stand that had been missing for a couple of weeks, and put it back in the tank alive. More info on this large family of snails can be found here.
http://www.applesnail.net/
Colombian ramshorns are a member of the apple snail family as well, but they are essentially Flat in design so they coil like a common Ramshorn. All of the Colombians I have seen personally have been striped with dark and light green. They are I?m sure other colors in existence though. Like most apple snails these guys will happily munch on your plants. The Colombian ramshorns get very large reaching a couple of inches in size.

Nerite snails I know little about except that they are technically not a freshwater snail, and they can live in freshwater but will not reproduce in freshwater. They are plant friendly according to what I have heard and read, and they are desirable to some folks because they don?t reproduce in freshwater. In other words, they eat algae don?t hurt plants, and won?t reproduce. From what I?ve seen they are medium sized topping out about ? I have not owned these snails so I know very little detail beyond what I have read.

There are a multitude of other small snails available in the hobby, as well as a long list of aliases that add to the confusion a bit. Marble snails, Japanese Trapdoor snails etc. are all types that I have yet to try out, but plan to some day.


Basic care of your snails is simple. They need calcium, food, and water. I stress the calcium simply because many water treatment plants including mine are removing calcium. Snail shells will erode, and snails will not reach full size without a good supply. There are a multitude of ways to supplement calcium to your tank if you do not have hard water. I use crushed coral, dolomite, calcium Chloride, and also keep a piece of Cuttlebone in the tank for them to graze on. I feed Hikari crab cuisine, which is a high calcium food supplement designed for crabs shrimp etc. and I watch the snail shells closely for white etching marks. Aside from calcium, they eat pretty much any and all leftover food and waste, many types of algae, dead plant leaves bio-film and so on. They can live in some pretty nasty water (I do not advise this) nitrites and ammonia don?t affect them readily, chlorine at low levels doesn?t seem to bother them. If o2 levels are low they will go to the surface, they do not seem to need light and temperatures within reason seem to make no difference to them. Tanks with low PH will add to the erosion effect on their shells, but if enough calcium is present they will compensate by building thicker new shell. Snails do produce waste, just like any other living organism in your tank. They eat and poop. Large snails such as a baseball sized apple snail should be treated just like a fish of the same size. They need enough room and bio-filter consideration to accommodate their size. The smaller snails of course have less of an effect based on volume, but I have found that a good size group of ramshorns will easily keep my bio-filter alive in my q-tank. So don?t completely discount their waste production in your tank.

Many fish will eat snails, but only a few will eradicate them completely. Clown loaches (and many other loaches for that matter) are well know as snail killers and will eliminate all but some of the best protected snails such as MTS?s. They will control populations of MTS?s quite well also. Most south and central American cichlids will ravage snail populations. My Dempsey, Oscar and Firemouth will not allow snails to live in the tank. Only the large mystery snails, and a handful of MTS?s seem to escape them. They will pick up and crush anything that fits in their mouth, and grab and jerk the larger ramshorns out of their shells. MTS shells are far too thick for most snail crushers, and can even be a danger to some Puffers because of the thick shells. Only the snail slurpers like loaches and catfish deal well with MTS?s. Puffers of all types will eat snails readily and most types require the crunchy treats for proper tooth development. A Puffer expert I am not, but RTR?s article linked above covers this with some detail.

Most predator catfish are excellent snail killers also. My pictus cats have actually eradicated even the MTS?s from my tank. I am working on building a new population as these snails seem to resist even the cats to some degree, but I still find a lot of empty shells. Catfish have the distinct advantage of hunting at night when the snails are most active and this has proven fatal for my MTS population. In order for any predator to eat an MTS they have to be quick enough to grab the snail before it closes it?s shell, and then strong enough to shake the snail loose. Otherwise the MTS is invulnerable.

Betta?s are said to eat snails, I know guppies will eat the babies as they hatch as do most fish. I have seen very few fish that would not readily eat a snail if the shell was crushed, but most fish do not posses the tools to unwrap a snail. Do not be surprised at the occasional empty shell, or fish attacking a developed set of eggs. Most folks contend that nothing will eat snail eggs, but my guppies seem to occasionally attack them. I surmise that this is more for the fairly developed baby snails but honestly don?t know. Any newly hatched snail is vulnerable, because of their minute size and thin shell. Based on the eggs I see and the number of snails I actually have, I would guess my guppies kill a good 75% of my baby snails. This is largely a guess, but when I actually do egg counts, the martality rate in my tanks is huge.


All in all I would just say that snails are not something I would avoid, I have no intention of ever having another tank without their prescence. Thay have proven to be beneficial in more ways than I ever imagined and really are not a scourge in any way I can find
Population Control tips

We have discussed that snail population explosions are a result of excess food, but I thought I should add some detail on how to bring poulations under control when they do explode.

Obviously the first step is to clean up the source of excess food. So water changes vaccuming, algae scraping, and reduced feeding are the place to start. Once these items are under control we still have a huge population of baby snails in our tanks. They will reach a certain size and then die off, but in my experience, there will remain a heavy population of smaller snails for quite a long time. Quite by accident I have discovered some ways to quickly reduce the population and leave my tanks with a handfull of large healthy snails and limited reproduction. I started out with the intent of maintianing some larger breeding stock while putting all of the babay snails I could into another tank. I was hopeing the small snails in large numbers would escape the scrutiny of my cichlids and catfish and a few would survive to reproduce. This plan did not work, the catfish are relentless in their hunting but the effect on the donor tank was very noticeable. The snails I left in the production tank grew large. Larger snails eat more, so the total available food in that tank stayed limited. With smaller numbers of larger snails, reproduction slowed nearly to a stop. With this observation I then observed a second tank with similar environment and food levels. the poulation in that tank remained heavy, but the overall size of the snails remained small. Reproduction remained steady. If I pulled out the small snails and left the large ones. Growth became predominant and reproduction slowed. If I pulled out the large snails then production skyrocketed and growth became limited. With this information, I can manipulate the snail populations any way I want in my tanks. If I want high production I remove only the largest snails, If I want low production I remove only the smallest snails. The only way to get both high production and high growth is to overfeed drastically.

This also lends to observation I have made on other tanks. I have a friend who has a very well maintained planted tank. He pulls a lot of larger snails out for his puffers, subsequently he constantly has a huge population of tiny snails. I have not discussed this theory with him but given his tank condition, and maintenance practices the baby snails in his tank seem excessive.


David W. Sullenberger
« Last Edit: September 14, 2006, 05:36:49 PM by JP » Logged
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