One afternoon I looked at my aquarium and noticed something had been munching on my java fern! Because the stock in my aquarium consisted of a bunch of tetra’s, a bristle-nose catfish and some rabbit snails I had quickly drawn the conclusion that it probably not were the tetra’s.
Some species of snails definitely do fancy a fresh aquatic leaf. Amongst the plant-eating snails are rabbit snails and some bigger apple snail species. Most snails that hitchhike into your aquarium (and often considered pest snails) do not eat healthy leaves.
Trust me when I say that it can be super annoying to find out your snails have been eating from the plants in your planted tank. Therefore it is super critical that you know what snails and what plants you can add to your fish tank to minimize the losses.
Before we jump straight into the content of this article, I want to point you towards this Youtube video I created for you. If you prefer me explaining this over reading it than give it a go. All the info is in the rest of the article as well!
What Aquarium Snails Do Not Eat Your Plants
While looking into what snails you can buy for your fish tank that will not pose a threat to your live plants, I wanted to hear it as first hand as I could. I looked at forums and a variety of Facebook groups where I have asked the question to a lot of experienced snail keepers. Also, I have been keeping multiple species of snails in my planted tanks. I will provide a list with snails that do not eat live plants.
- Tiny Pest Snails
- Pond/Bladder Snails
- Clea Helena (assassin) Snails
- Ramshorn Snails
- Nerite Snails
- Malaysian Trumpet Snails
At the time my primary concern were the so called “pest” snails that entered my aquarium and suddenly were everywhere I could look. I was worried that they might eat my plants, and from experience I can say that pest snails do not eat your plants.
Other snails I have kept are clea helena (assassin) snails, which I have kept with a wide variety of plants with not problem. I have also never caught my ramshorn snails eating healthy live plants.
On various forums I heard that both Nerite snails and Malaysian Trumpet Snails (MTS) are not a problem to keep with live plants. These snails are actually rather beneficial for your plants, as nerite snails are considered to be one of the best algae eating snails in the hobby and MTS are known to dig around and aerate the substrate.
Prevent Snails From Eating Your Aquatic Plants
From my experience, and also from a lot of other fish keepers, most of the times snails prefer algae, leftover fish food and dead leaves over fresh and healthy leaves. There are times however, when all other resources are scarce and the snails will choose healthy leaves for dinner.
So how could you encourage snails to eat other things over your live plants? Make sure there is enough other food for your snails to eat in your aquarium. Most of the times a snail infestation or a massive snail population increase is due to overfeeding. If you keep your aquarium well fed snails will be less likely to munch on your plants.
Another thing you can do to prevent your snails from eating your live plants is making sure you own plants that snails do not fancy. More on this in a coming subheading.
What to do if You See Aquarium Snails Eating From Your Plants
In my case, I did nothing when I saw my rabbit snail eating from my java fern. I am pretty sure that that was not the right choice to make, because when I looked again the next day a lot of the plant was gone.
What I should have done, and what you should do when you see a snail enjoying supper, is to pick him up and place him somewhere else in the tank. This will obviously not prevent him for doing so again, but you should also feed your tank.
Now there are a couple of things to consider, are you going to keep your snail with your plants and risk your plants getting eaten, or are you going to move your snail or your plants. I personally love my snails so for me moving them was not an option.
What Plants Do Snails Not Eat
If you do find yourself owning snails that eat plants, for example the rabbit snail or for example a big canas apple snail, you might want to restock the plants in your tank with something less appetizing for your snail.
Plants that get eaten by snails often are the softer, more delicate plants that have soft leaves. Examples are most stem plants, some types of crypts and from my own experience: java ferns (for rabbit snails).
A very good alternative that you want to consider buying is the super robust, hard leaved plant called Anubias. It is a common plant and chances are high you either own some or have heard about them. Their dark green leaves are strong and not attractive for snails looking for a tender juicy leaf.
Anubias comes in a wide variety of different types, and there are bigger and smaller ones. Reality is that most fish stores carry at least one kind of Anubias, so they are commonly available.
The one trap that you want to avoid when taking care of an Anubias plant, is to plant the roots in the substrate. An Anubias plant should not be planted in the substrate like other plants, but should rather be stuck to a rock or piece of wood.
Can You Use Live Plants as Snail Food
To use live plants as food is possible, but would be quite expensive. There are cheaper ways to go. You could feed lettuce for example! This is rather popular amongst snail keepers, and a great way to provide your snail with a more varied diet than just algae.
Important: If you feed vegetables, never let them go bad in your aquarium. Always take them out after a couple of days, otherwise it will become a source of toxic ammonia.
Some of the snails that accept lettuce, cucumber and other green vegetables are mytery snails, ramshorn snails and apple snails but to be honest, you just have to try it for yourself! You should try what your snails like, I have heard people feeding green beans, cucumber, zucchini, romaine lettuce, spinach and carrots.
How should you prepare the vegetables for your snails? It can be hard to keep your vegetables from floating, so you can weight them down. Another thing that helps is to quickly blanch them in boiling water. This makes them softer for your snails to eat.
Can plants recover when they are partly eaten by snails? In my experience, healthy plants will grow new leaves over time. I have not seen any gnawed leaves recover from the holes the snails ate in them. A plant is rather strong, so when a snail partially eats the plant it will not die super easy.
How quick will snails eat my plants? When I saw my rabbit snail taking bites out of my java fern, it went super quick. When I looked again the next day an impressive part of my java fern was gone. I think I should have been feeding more in the days before.
Will all snails eat dead plants? In general, snails are super good in finding leftover food and dead organic material. They will indeed eat it and therefore a lot of people reference to their snails as their “clean-up crew”. Just remember that a lot of snails are still a major source of ammonia because they poop a lot, they do not substitute water changes.