11 Best & Worst Types of Freshwater Aquarium Snails

I love having snails in my tanks. They’re easy to care for and do an excellent job helping to keep my aquariums clean.

And I’m going to share with you my top 7 aquarium snails I like to put in my tank on purpose.

You see, there are also some snails you just absolutely don’t want to put in your tank.

A snail plague is not fun. I’m still mentally recovering from a recent bladder snail invasion.

So I’m also going to share with you aquarium snails you’ll want to avoid, and also some battle-tested tips on how to remove them if they ever appear in your tank.

Let’s start with seven of my favorite aqaurium snails you’ll actually want.

1. Zebra Nerite Snails (Neritina natalensis)

Zebra nerite snail

There are several different species of nerite snails available in the aquarium trade.

I really do think they are the best snails for a freshwater tank. They are excellent algae eaters and never bother live plants. They just delicately scrape algae off plant leaves.

Best of all, they do not reproduce in freshwater. If you have a male and female, they will lay fertile eggs, but the eggs won’t hatch unless they’re in brackish water.

Be aware, if you have a household water softener, the eggs might be able to hatch because of the sodium content of your water.

Most nerites have round shells that are slightly pointed on one end and they only reach about 1.5 inches (4 centimeters) long.

Zebra nerites are pretty darn cool looking. They have dark brown and gold stripes. The stripes can be thick or thin, straight or wavy.

Care Information

Care level: easy
Behavior: peaceful
Diet: algae, decaying plant material, uneaten fish food, supplement with blanched veggies
Minimum tank size: 10 gallons
Temperature: 72°-78°F (22°-26°C)
Ammonia/Nitrite: 0
Nitrate: <30 ppm
pH: 7.5-8.5
GH: 5-8 dGH
KH: 5-15 dKH

See Nerite Snail Guide here

2. Tiger Nerite Snails (Vittina Semiconica)

tiger nerite snail

Tiger nerites have the same shell shape as zebras. But, their base color is a really pretty sunset orange. Often, they have a lighter golden color that spirals around the shell.

They also have bands of dark brown spots or chevrons that look a bit like tire tracks.

I’ve had several of these over the years. They’re a really active snail who can get themselves into places you wouldn’t believe, like the filter intake.

They’re escape artists, like all nerites, so I really would recommend a tight fitting lid.

Care Information

Care level: easy
Behavior: peaceful
Diet: algae, decaying plant material, uneaten fish food, supplement with blanched veggies
Minimum tank size: 10 gallons
Temperature: 72°-78°F (22°-26°C)
Ammonia/Nitrite: 0
Nitrate: <30 ppm
pH: 7.5-8.5
GH: 5-8 dGH
KH: 5-15 dKH

3. Horned Nerite Snails (Clithon corona/diadema)

horned nerite snail

Horned nerites are a little different. Instead of the typical shell shape, horned nerites have projections that come off their shells.

They’ve always looked like antennas to me, but if folks want to call them horns, that’s OK with me.

The “horns” are made out of the same material as the rest of the shell.

There are several color variations of horned nerites. My favorite ones have this really cool looking yellow and black spiral pattern.

Care and feeding of horned nerites is just like the other varieties and their eggs will only hatch in brackish water.

Care Information

Care level: easy
Behavior: peaceful
Diet: algae, decaying plant material, uneaten fish food, supplement with blanched veggies
Minimum tank size: 10 gallons
Temperature: 72°-78°F (22°-26°C)
Ammonia/Nitrite: 0
Nitrate: <30 ppm
pH: 7.5-8.5
GH: 5-8 dGH
KH: 5-15 dKH

4. Mystery Snails (Pomacea bridgesii)

Mystery snail

Mystery snails have a rounded shell that can be white, golden, red, blue, green, brown, black or purple.

They are a kind of apple snail, but it’s easy to control their numbers.

If you end up with a male and female mystery snail, they will breed and lay eggs. But, females lay big clusters of bright pink eggs above the waterline.

So it’s fairly easy to just remove the eggs and dispose of them.

If you want to avoid eggs altogether, only keep a single snail.

I really like mystery snails. I think they look really cute cruising around the tank and I’ve never known them to bother any of my live plants.

But, mystery snails are not the best algae eaters. They eat some, but they’re better for things like cleaning up the uneaten food your fish leave behind.

Care Information

Care level: easy
Behavior: peaceful
Diet: some algae, decaying plant material, uneaten fish food, supplement with blanched veggies
Minimum tank size: 5 gallons
Temperature: 68°-82°F (20°-28°C)
Ammonia/Nitrite: 0
Nitrate: <30 ppm
pH: 7.5-8.5
GH: 5-8 dGH
KH: 5-15 dKH

5. Japanese Trapdoor Snails (Cipangopaludina japonica)

Japanese trapdoor snail

Japanese trapdoor snails (JTS) have a twisted conical shell that gets distinctly larger with each whorl. They come in a variety of colors, like golden, green, white or dark brown.

They’re mostly kept in ponds but are becoming more popular for aquarium use.

JTS will happily eat algae and other detritus in the tank and will leave live plants alone as long as they are well fed.

They will breed in an aquarium if you have a male and female. The only way to make sure you don’t end up with more is to have only one in your tank. But, they’re a large snail(2”/5cm), with a voracious appetite, so a single snail can make a huge dent in your tank’s algae.

Care Information

Care level: easy
Behavior: peaceful
Diet: algae, decaying plant material, uneaten fish food, supplement with blanched veggies
Minimum tank size: 15 gallons
Temperature: 64°-84°F (18°-29°C)
Ammonia/Nitrite: 0
Nitrate: <30 ppm
pH: 7.0-8.0
GH: 5-8 dGH
KH: 5-15 dKH

6. Rabbit Snails (Tylomelania sp.)

rabbit snail

There are many different species of rabbit snail so they come in a variety of colors and sizes. They all have a twisted conical shell that can be anywhere from 1-4 inches (2.5-10 centimeters).

These guys love to dig around in the substrate. This is great for planted tanks since it aerates the soil.

They feed on algae, uneaten fish food and fish waste around the aquarium. They usually leave live plants alone.

But they do seem to have a thing for Java fern. Apparently they find it rather tasty and will devour it like candy.

Keep in mind, rabbit snails will breed in the aquarium if you have a male and a female. They breed relatively slowly, only laying an egg every 4-6 weeks, but that still means baby snails in the tank.

The only way to guarantee you don’t end up with babies is to keep only one rabbit snail in your tank.

Care Information

Care level: easy
Behavior: peaceful
Diet: algae, decaying plant material, uneaten fish food, fish waste, supplement with blanched veggies
Minimum tank size: 10 gallons
Temperature: 74°-84°F (23°-29°C)
Ammonia/Nitrite: 0
Nitrate: <30 ppm
pH: 7.5-8.5
GH: 5-8 dGH
KH: 5-15 dKH

7. Black Devil Snails (Faunus ater)

black devil snail

Black devil snails have a pointed conical shell that’s either very dark brown or glossy black. They get pretty big, about 2-3 inches (5-7.6 centimeters) long.

These are brackish water snails and so their eggs will not hatch in freshwater.

I think they’re a really interesting looking snail. The shells of the black variety always look like obsidian to me.

One thing about them, though, some aquarists have had issues with them eating live plants. It doesn’t always happen if they’ve got plenty of algae to munch on, but it is something to be aware of.

Care Information

Care level: easy
Behavior: peaceful
Diet: algae, decaying plant material, uneaten fish food, may munch on delicate plants, supplement with blanched veggies
Minimum tank size: 10 gallons
Temperature: 72°-78°F (22°-26°C)
Ammonia/Nitrite: 0
Nitrate: <30 ppm
pH: 7.0-8.0
GH: 5-8 dGH
KH: 5-15 dKH

4 Worst Freshwater Aquarium Snails

The next four are snails you absolutely want to avoid.

After we go through each type, I’ll explain how you can get rid of them.

1. Bladder Snails

Bladder snails don’t get very big, only about a ½ inch (1.25 centimeters) long. They’re a muddy brown color with speckles.

Their shells are mostly round. One end is just slightly pointed so they mostly appear just a bit asymmetrical.

They can reproduce both sexually and asexually. They’re hermaphroditic so they can actually fertilize themselves to create viable eggs.

All it takes is one to get in the tank and they will breed like crazy, putting off tons of waste that breaks down into ammonia and nitrates.

All that extra waste can be produced so quickly that it overwhelms your biofilter and really fouls your water.

A lot of the time, aquarists see just one pop up, and think, “Ah, no big deal, it’s just one little snail.”

And then a week later they see another and another and another. Soon, they’re everywhere.

Their population only grows to match the food supply, but if you have a heavily stocked tank, they can feed off the fish waste. And they’ll gladly reproduce until you have dozens in the tank.

They also make their way into your filters where they’ll gladly eat up filter gunk and have about a million babies.

Luckily, bladder snails won’t destroy your live plants. They just want to munch on algae, fish poop and other detritus. But they’re still pretty darn annoying.

What’s bad about them?

Breed like crazy
Hard to get rid of
Get into your filters

2. Malaysian Trumpet Snails

Malaysian trumpet snails have a long, thin conical shell. It always reminds me of a unicorn horn.

These little guys are hermaphroditic and will breed like mad.

They are also practically indestructible. Once these get in your tank, it’s darn near impossible to get rid of them.

Malaysian trumpets can go months with little to no food and they can even survive things like bleach being added to a tank.

Yep.

On top of that, predators like pea puffers and assassin snails don’t really like to eat them.

Basically, they are the snails of Satan and could survive a nuclear holocaust.

What’s bad about them?

Just about impossible to kill
Reproduce very quickly
Can reproduce sexually or assexually

3. Pond Snails

There are several different species of pond snails that can hitch a ride into your aquarium, all from the family Lymnaeidae. They’re usually a drab brown color with a very pointy spiral shell that flares out drastically as it twists around to where the snail’s foot emerges.

Another clue that you’ve got pond snails: they grow and mature very quickly. So if it seems like the snails cruising around your tank get bigger every 5 minutes, they’re probably some kind of pond snail.

Some species can get pretty large. They can have shells up to 2 inches (5 centimeters) long. Their big size means they put off a lot of waste that can really affect your water quality, and quickly.

All that fast growth and large size means these guys have a huge appetite. When they’ve eaten all the algae in the tank, they’ll start tearing through your plants and devouring them.

What’s bad about them?

Put off tons of waste
Reproduce very quickly
Can reproduce sexually or assexually
Will devour live plants

4. Apple Snails

There are several different species of apple snails, all from the family Ampullariidae. They come in a variety of colors, like brown, white, yellow, blue, purple, etc.

Their shells are mostly round with a pointed whorl. Turned on their sides, they look like an old fashioned spinning top.

Some species have escaped into the wild around the US and are considered to be a serious pest that negatively affects both wildlife and agriculture.

Even rabbits are impressed by how quickly apple snails can reproduce. They lay 200-600 eggs at a time. So all it takes is one clutch of eggs and your tank will be completely overrun with snails.

And females can store sperm for prolonged periods of time. So they can be on their own and still lay fertile eggs even if there are no boys around.

What’s bad about them?

Reproduce in the hundreds
Invasive species
Females can reproduce without a male for months

How to Get Rid of Pest Snails

If you ever encounter these pests, here’s how you can get rid of it.

Limit the Food Supply

You can often limit the number of pest snails in your tank if you can limit the food available for them to eat.

If you step up on doing your water changes, thoroughly vacuum the gravel, trim dead growth off plants, don’t overfeed your fish and deal with algae issues, most species of pest snails will die back and you’ll only have a few.

This doesn’t get rid of all the snails, but it cuts way back on the number roaming around the tank and makes them manageable.

Also, if you remove a bunch of snails through trapping or manual removal, the population will just explode again if there’s still all that food to eat. If they don’t have all that free food to munch on, they can’t keep rebuilding their numbers.

Manual Removal

While you’re cutting back on the food available for the snails, getting rid of some of the adults can be really helpful.

Manual removal is just a fancy way of saying grabbing as many of the little blighters as you can by hand.

Not my idea of fun, but if it gets a bunch of snails out of the tank, time well spent.

I did come across this cool video of a lady sucking snails out of her tank by making a siphon with a piece of ⅝” tubing. She was able to suck up a couple of dozen baby pond snails in about 2 minutes.

Anything to make the process more efficient is a good thing.

Trapping

Trapping is a great way to easily remove large numbers of snails all at once.

You can buy snail traps online, but I really don’t see the point. It’s easy and cheap to build your own trap.

Equipment:

20 ounce plastic water bottle
Heavy duty scissors
Blanched vegetables (lettuce, carrots, broccoli, etc)
Small rocks or a handful of aquarium gravel

Steps:

  1. Cut the top third of the water bottle off completely.
  2. Place the blanched veggies inside the bottom of the bottle.
  3. Place small rocks or gravel in the bottom of the bottle to weigh it down.
  4. Invert the top of the bottle into the bottom so that the top of the bottle forms a funnel and push it down firmly so it stays in place.
  5. Place the trap in your tank and leave it there overnight. Make sure the bottle sits straight up and down and not on it’s side. That way, fish won’t swim in.
  6. Remove the bottle from the tank in the morning and discard the snails.
  7. Put in fresh veggies and reuse the trap as many times as you want.

Pro Tip: If you have ornamental shrimp in the tank, they’ll get stuck in your trap as well. Just be sure to check and let these critters out before you dump the trap.

Limiting the food supply and trapping snails is one of the best strategies for dealing with Malaysian trumpet snails.

Predators

There are several species of fish, and even a species of snail, that will happily munch on your pest snails.

Just be sure that your tank conditions are right for the species and that you want/can keep them long term.

Botia loaches

Loaches eat snails like it’s nobody’s business. They’re one of the best at dealing with pest snails in my opinion.

These guys are schooling fish, so it’s best to plan on getting five or more.

Some species get really big, and need a huge tank, like clown loaches. Unless you’ve got something like a 110 gallon (415 liters), it’s best to go with smaller species like zebra or dwarf chain loaches.

Botia loaches will crunch up and eat any snail small enough to fit in their mouths. Anything bigger, and they will suck the snail out of its shell or constantly harass and nip at the snail any time it emerges.

I have personally seen a school of four zebra loaches wipe out a plague of bladder snails in under a week. They’re amazing.

And super cute, too!

Puffer Fish

Puffers love snails; they eat them like candy.

They’re also pretty much THE cutest fish you could ever imagine.

Just remember, many species require brackish water. So your tank might not be right for them.

And they might be totally adorable, but they can also be really aggressive. I do not recommend them for a community tank.

They will gladly commit serial homicide, one tank mate at a time.

Assassin Snails (Clea helena)

Yep.

There are snails that eat other snails.

These helpful little cannibals will cruise around the tank and eat pest snails, even if the pest snail is much bigger than them.

They’re peaceful with fish and shrimp, as long as they’re well fed. If there’s no snails in the tank for them to eat, you can feed them meaty foods like frozen blood worms or algae wafers that contain fish meal.

Assassin snails reproduce sexually, so you won’t end up with babies unless you have both sexes.

But, if you do have a male and female, they will reproduce. They breed much more slowly than pest snails, however. And frankly, you’ll have an easy time finding them new homes.

They can actually be a good species to breed for profit.

Treat with Copper

This really is my least favorite method of dealing with pest snails, for several reasons.

Right off the bat: copper-based poisons won’t just kill the pest snails. It will wipe out any invertebrates in the tank.

If you have anything like shrimp, crayfish or clams in the tank, they need to be removed before you treat with copper.

And they may need to be housed in another tank for an extended period of time because getting copper back out of your tank can be hard.

If you have a plague of snails in the tank, and you wipe them all out with copper, then suddenly you have dozens and dozens of dead snails rotting in the tank.

This can lead to big ammonia spikes that can harm your fish.

Be prepared to test and retest for ammonia levels and to do frequent water changes.

Many species of fish are sensitive to copper and can be harmed or killed along with the snails.

Make sure to research the species you have in your tank and make sure none of them are copper sensitive.

Scaleless fish, like loaches and catfish, can be particularly sensitive. I’d recommend removing them to another tank while you treat with copper.

Many live plants are also copper sensitive. Species like Vallisneria and Sagitaria can die from the exposure to copper.

And here’s the kicker, if you remove the plants from the tank before you treat with copper, more than likely some snails or snail eggs will hitch a ride on the leaves or roots.

So you could end up spreading the problem or reintroducing it to the treated tank when you put the plants back, if you don’t take precautions.

Pro Tip: If you need to get copper out of your tank, your best bet is a chemical filter media like Poly Filter or Cuprisorb. It might just look like regular filter floss, but it actually chemically binds to impurities such as copper, nitrates and ammonia.

Last update on 2019-11-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

In general, I would really recommend that you only use poisons to deal with a snail problem if you absolutely have to. I just think there’s too much risk.

Are Aquarium Snails Right For You?

Many people in the aquarium hobby have a love/hate relationship with snails, and I’m one of them.

I’ve really enjoyed having the snails that I put into the tank on purpose. They’re not hard to take care of and they do a good job of helping to clean up your tank.

Plus, it’s neat to watch them climb around in the tank, especially species like mystery or nerite snails that seem to glide along without any effort.

But, suddenly dealing with a plague of pest snails is no fun at all. I just recently went to war with bladder snails. It was the classic scenario: I picked up some new plants, about a week later I saw one tiny snail, and a week after that, there were billions of them.

OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it felt like there were billions.

It was really frustrating, and about as fun as a root canal, but I finally got them under control.

So don’t beat yourself up if you’ve suddenly got a snail problem. I’m pretty sure it happens to every aquarist at some point.

There are things you can do to reduce or eliminate pest snails in your aquarium. Honestly, limiting the food supply will help you control the majority of infestations.

Katherine Morgan

Hey, there! I'm Katherine from Northwest Florida. I've kept aquariums for over two decades, enjoy experimenting with low-tech planted setups and an avid South American cichlid enthusiast.
Katherine Morgan

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