It started when I saw a tiny snail in my aquarium that I most definitely did not buy and added it to my fish tank because I liked them. I did not know where it came from but did not think much of it. A while later I started seeing more and more of those tiny snails, and then realized they are annoying and unwanted.
Chances are that you right now are experiencing the same problem, maybe you even did the same as me and let the one or two snails that you saw earlier by without realizing how many there would be a couple of weeks later. This article is a complete guide on aquarium pest snails and especially how to remove them from your aquarium. I will provide you with an array of options to choose from.
What causes a snail infestation
Like each problem, we have to start at the beginning. Finding the cause of the extreme numbers of snails in your aquarium will give you an insight into the problem, and it will also prevent another infestation in the future.
First you should know how the tiny snails got into your aquarium in the first place, as I am quite sure you did not buy them. It only takes a couple (or even one) snail to eventually over time become over a hundred snails.
The first snails or even snail eggs that have caused your first snail infestation came through live plants that you have put in your tank. Be it from a reputable fish store where you bought some, or the plants you got from a fellow aquarium hobbyist that helped get you started with your first live planted tank. If these plants contained some snails or snail eggs, they have entered your aquarium and are now living in it.
Next time when you buy plants, you can prevent more snails making their way into your fish tank. This is something that I now do on a regular basis when I get new plants, and it definitely works for me.
Give your plants a thorough rinse with water before adding them to your tank! I do this under the tap for about half a minute, and I really make sure that the water get everywhere. This will flush any small snails from the leaves of the plants.
Ornaments or fish nets
At the previous cause I specifically said that live plants will most like have caused your first snail infestation. This is because these, together with your fish, have already been in the water for a while and snails will have had the opportunity to crawl onto them like pirates board a foreign ship! The ornaments that you buy from a shop mostly do not come out of an aquarium, but are still dry.
When you have been into the hobby for longer you might want to start multiple fish tanks, and this is a way that your old tank might “infect” your brand new tank with snails through some ornaments, rocks or wood that you move from one aquarium to another.
With moving ornaments, rocks and wood from one aquarium to the next aquarium, also make sure to rinse them thoroughly. This minimizes the risk of snails hitchhiking on the object you will use to decorate your new tank.
Overfeeding your tank – stop!
Alright, you might have accidentally added one or two snails to your fish tank, this is not directly a problem! It only starts being a pain when there suddenly are hundreds of them. Overfeeding is the cause of the rapid increase in numbers for all pest snails. You can have a couple of snails in your fish tank for ages, but as soon as you are overfeeding it goes south. All the food that your fish can not eat dwells down to the bottom of the tank and will transform it into the fine dining restaurants your snails have been dreaming of.
This is a good idea in general, but only feed your fish as much as they can eat. The mistake I made that caused a snail infestation was installing an automatic feeder that was feeding way too much food on a daily basis. Not only did my nitrate levels skyrocket (causing an algae problem), it also provided me with a ton of unwanted snails.
6 effective ways to remove pest snails
So we now know what has most likely caused the snail infestation in your tank. We know where they came from and that they start to thrive as soon as we overfeed the fish in our tank. The next step is removing the snails that are already in the aquarium that we do not want there.
1. Introduce predators
The first way to remove the pest snails is by introducing predators that will eat the snails. This is a popular method in the aquarium hobby, lots of people us it. Snails are part of the diet for many fish, and my turtles like them as well. Obviously I do not recommend adding 2 turtles in your tank to fight the pest snails, so which animals can you add that will help you get rid of your infestation?
There are multiple options for you to add to your fish tank that will eat the pest snails that you are trying to deal with. Popular predators to add to your aquarium are Helena (assassin) snails, Dwarf Puffer Fish or for example Clown loaches and Yo-yo loaches for some bigger tanks. Make sure that you can care for the animal in the long run! Helena snails will probably do fine in your regular community tank, but Pea puffers need special care and clown loaches get HUGE, up to 12 inch (30cm)!
Helena (Assassin) Snails
Assassin snails will only eat snails and stay away from small fish. They also do not multiply that fast so it is unlikely that they will form a problem themselves. That would be unwanted, a snail infestation coming from snails aimed at treating that same infestation. If you really do not want more snails breeding in your tank, you can think about only adding one Helena snail and hope it will not lay eggs. Make sure you do not put the assassin snails with other snails because they will take them down too. Even if the other snails are much much bigger then them, over time they will fall victim as well. Although these snails in my opinion are beautiful, if you really do not want any more snails in your tank a better option is choosing another way to battle the pest snails.
Dwarf Puffer / Pea Puffer
The second option that I propose and have tried is a Dwarf Puffer or Pea Puffer. These little guys are adorable and will take down your small pest snails with extreme precision. It is awesome to see them hunt for snails. The dwarf puffer is effective and adorable, but remember that they do not eat dry food like flakes and pallets. I tried feeding this to mine, but he would only take live food like daphnia and frozen food like blood worms. If your pest snail infestation is over make sure you have the capabilities to house the puffer.
Clown / Yo-yo Loaches
The last option that has been recommended by many hobbyists are loaches, as they do fancy snails for dinner. They will sift through the substrate in their hunt for snails and will gladly eat any they encounter. There are two popular loach species that regularly pop up that are know to be great to battle a snail infestation: Yo-yo Loaches and Clown Loaches. The clown loach will become big, so this might not be as good for you. The yo-yo loach stays smaller and therefore might just be what you are looking for! You should not keep yo-yo loaches with shy and calm species of fish as they can be quite active themselves. The rule also counts for these beautiful fish: make sure you are able to house them when your snail infestation is over.
2. Bait the snails with Lettuce or Cucumber
If you do not want to add any extra animals in your tank, which is understandable, this method will be extremely helpful for you. You can bait the snails with food they love! You can do this by for example using cucumber like in the picture, or lettuce.
The steps could not be easier. Add cucumber to you tank and wait a couple of days, as snails are not known for their speed. Give them some time to find the bait and climb on it.
After a day or two you can remove the bait from the tank and there should be a lot of snails attached to it. This method is not extremely thorough, but can repeated multiple times. And the nice thing is that you might be able to sell or give the snails you removed from your tank to someone that might be interested in them as food. When I had my dwarf pea puffer I was always looking for someone that could provide me with some snails to feed him.
3. Buy or Build a Snail Trap
Adding cucumber or lettuce to your tank obviously already is a form of baiting the snails, but you can also buy or make dedicated snail traps. There is a wide range of different brands available, and I will make sure that I will look into them in the near future.
Snail traps are easy to make yourself. It is as simple as taking a plastic container and drilling/cutting some small holes in the top. Put some food in it and make sure it sinks, the snails will enter but will not leave!
4. Empty your tank
Alright I will admit that this method is the opposite of convenient, but it is effective. If you do not have any fish in your tank, or you have the capability to house your friendly fish friends elsewhere, you can empty your tank and clean it.
Let the tank dry out completely and this should also get rid of the snails. When you choose to go for this method, make sure that you do not kill the beneficial bacteria that have built up in your filter that help taking care of the ammonia that your fish produce. You should not let your filter media dry, and you have to scoop in some new aquarium water every 30 minutes. This new aquarium water will basically ‘feed’ you bacteria.
5. Pick the last ones out by hand
This is extremely important if you have just a couple of pest snails left! This all boils down to the beginning phases of the snail infestation that I described earlier: if you let just a couple of snails be because you do not think it is a problem, they will become a problem.
So even if you see just a couple of little pest snails, make sure you take them out or have some predators already present in your tank, otherwise they will for sure be a problem in the future.
6. Use chemicals
Please, I ask you to consider the other methods first before considering this one. I have to mention it because it is an option, but you have to be careful not to harm your fish. The most used chemical to get rid of snails is copper sulfate, but, despite what people say, it is harmful for your fish too when you accidentally give a doses that is too high. Therefore read the instructions of the package really well and follow that strictly.
Good, you have tried the solutions and they seem to be working. How can you prevent snail infestations in the future? As I told you in the introduction, they mostly enter your aquarium via live aquarium plants. You should check for snails and rinse off the plants before you put them into your aquarium.
Also, you should not overfeed because this may cause pest snails to reproduce rapidly. Oh and by the way it also gives you extra work with unnecessary water changes because you are adding too much waste into the water. That is also a reason why you do not want to overfeed.
To conclude, snails enter via plants or ornaments and their population explodes because you are possibly feeding too much. You can limit your feeding, add natural predators, trap your snails or even clean your entire tank to make sure they are all gone. Good luck, I managed to do it and I hope that you can also do it with this knowledge!
Banner image – Picture owner Dennis L. licensed under CC 2.0
 – Picture from RSX licensed under CC 3.0
Fish food image – Author is User:Pinpin Licensed under CC1.0 no changes made
Clown loach image – Author The Reptilarian licensed under CC2.0