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I think I had my tropical aquarium for about a year when I suffered from my first pest snail infestation. Unwanted snails can be annoying so introducing fish that see them as dinner can be a great solution. However, what fish eat water snails?
The first step to fixing any snail infestation
Before adding anything to battle all the dozens of tiny pest snails in your tank, there is something that you should do: find the cause. I can tell you where the first couple of snails came from, but there is a reason they start to multiply as fast as they do.
The first couple of tiny pest snails hitchhiked into your aquarium. Most of the times there are either snails or snail eggs stuck to aquarium plants that you add to the tank. If you don’t have live plants, they were probably stuck to some ornaments that were previously in another tank.
However, the most probably reason why these tiny snails take over an aquarium is because of overfeeding. If you feed more than your aquarium fish can eat, the leftovers will fall down to the substrate. Most fish that have plenty to eat are picky and will not “pick up” any leftover food that has settled on the bottom of your tank. From them on it’s in the “pest snail” domain.
Find out whether you’re feeding to much and reduce the amount your feed. This will prevent the remaining snails of spreading. From here you can either lure all the snails with a piece of cucumber and remove them by hand, or introduce a new tank inhabitant to do the dirty work for you.
Before jumping straight to the list, you need to know that it can be tricky to add a fish just to eat some snails. You need to be able to take care of the new fish in the long term too. Your tank must be able to provide what the new fish needs and meet all the requirements. This is something people sometimes forget when trying to fix a snail problem.
Try asking your local fish store whether you can “borrow” or “rent” a fish that eat snails. My local fish store does this; people can temporarily use a fish to eat all their snails, after which they take them back to the store.
1. Loaches (Zebra / Dojo / Yoyo / Dwarf Chain / Clown)
I’m not one to make these lists artificially long so that’s why it says “loaches” in general. There is a variety of different loaches for you to choose from, but some options are better suited than others. From what I’ve read and heard, your best option is adding either Dojo or Yoyo loaches.
All these fish are part of the botia family and love to eat snails. Some smaller loaches like the Kuhli loach are too small to eat pest snails and therefore not suitable for our situation. It’s important that your aquarium is suitable to add whatever fish you are going to add. It should be big enough, especially for some bigger species like Clown loaches.
When I was struggling to reduce my pest snail population I thought about adding a smaller loach such as a yoyo loach, but I decided against it. The reason for this is because these fish are super active and great hunters. They’ll eat pest snails as well as other ornamental snails. Shrimp or other small invertebrates are not safe either.
Each type of loach is a little different so find one suitable for your tank situation and research it thoroughly. The minimum tank size for a couple of clown loaches lies at 100 gallons / 370 L which is pretty large already!
2. Puffer Fish
Puffers are known to eat snails, and can therefore be a suitable solution to your snail problem. There are many different varieties of puffer fish available in our aquarium hobby. Not all of them will be suitable for your aquarium, depending on your situation. When picking fish to counter your snail problem, also think about the long term care. You’ll have to care for your new pet even when the snail problem is solved.
Most puffers are only suitable for saltwater tanks, but there are some species who do great in freshwater tanks. The specific puffer on the picture above is called a Green Spotted Puffer, and you’ll see how cute they are. There is a problem: most puffer fish don’t do well with tank mates and require a “species only” tank.
If you’re still looking for puffers that you could add to a community tank, you should take a look at pea puffers. These tiny puffer fish can do well in extremely peaceful aquariums with close to no “competition”. I’ve had one pea puffer that was feeding on tiny pest snails. They have so much personality, it’s great!
3. Assassin Snails are your best option
To be completely honest, the best way to counter a snail infestation is by adding assassin snails. Of course these are snails and not fish, but they are phenomenal hunters and only target other snails. They can fit in any community aquarium, do not harm shrimp/fish and breed super slow and will therefore never take over your tank.
When I struggled with hundred of pest snails in my tank, I bought 5 Assassin Snails that solved my problem. Obviously I had already identified and solved the cause of the infestation: overfeeding, but the Clea Helena snails hunted down every single one of the survivors.
The tiny pest snails are not harmful to your tank, but they are a sore to the eyes. In my opinion, assassin snails are so much more beautiful. It’s a shame they never become an infestation themselves.
4. Honorable Mentions and Myths
- Betta fish do not eat snails
- Corydoras do not eat snails
- Bala sharks sometimes eat snails
- Goldfish eat snails
- Angelfish sometimes eat snails
- Rainbow kribensis sometimes eat snails
- Gourami’s sometiems eat snails
There are other species of fish that people tend to relate to eating snails. Not all of them actually eat snails. Betta fish for example do not eat snails, not even the tiny pest snails. My girlfriend has a betta in a tank with pest snails and the fish shows no interest in them.
Corydoras also do not eat snails but can play an important role in reducing your snail problem. Like I mentioned in the introduction, whenever food falls down and settled on the substrate, not all fish eat it. When you have corydoras, they will find the food and eat it, basically stealing it from the snails. This is a great example of fish helping you keep your tank clean. Don’t forget to feed additional sinking pallets to supplement the diet of your bottom dwellers. Just leftovers is not enough.
Next up are Bala Sharks. An article on Pethelpful mentioned that these fish might eat snails. Even if this is the case, they sadly are not suitable for every home aquarium due to their size and their temper.
Goldfish are also known to eat snails, but they are also no solution to a snail problem. Them eating snails could be a nice benefit when you’re about to get them anyway, but I would not recommend them when facing snail problems. This is also because goldfish need huge tanks (preferably a pond) and prefer colder water than tropical fish.
Bigger cichlids can also eat snails, but you can imagine it’s impossible to add any larger African or South American cichlid to a (community) tank without taking to right precautions. There are smaller cichlids like German Blue Rams or Kribensis and even Angelfish. These “dwarf”cichlids could be a nice addition to your freshwater aquarium under the right circumstances.
Gourami’s are known to eat small snails every once in a while. However, these fish are top dwellers and rarely visit the bottom of your tank. This makes them not suitable to deal with your snail problem. They are great, peaceful and beautiful fish though so shoutout to gourami’s.