Ramshorn snails can be either delightful pets or an invasive nuisance, depending on who you ask. Those who cherish their ramshorns as pets love their unique personalities and graceful motions. Those who find ramshorns to be pests find their rapid reproduction and occasional nibbling on delicate plants to be a bane to their aquarium.
Whether you see ramshorn snails as pets or pests depends on personal preference and the goal of your tank. Either way, read on to discover how to care for ramshorn snails as pets or get rid of them as pests.
Behavior and Appearance
Ramshorn snails come in a variety of colors. They are most frequently seen in shades of reddish-brown and black. However, some designer ramshorns come in all shades of blue, white, orange, pink, and striped. Their shells can be transparent or solid, depending on diet. While you may start out with a colony of blue snails when they start to reproduce, you shouldn’t be surprised if the offspring are the more common reddish-brown color. The color mutations that produce pinks, whites, and blues are recessive. So, most snails will be red, brown, or black regardless of what their parents look like.
Ramshorn eggs present as tiny transparent clusters of about ten to twelve eggs. These can be attached to aquarium walls or hidden inside plants and decorations. Because they are challenging to see at first and are often invisible when hidden in plants, it is common for ramshorn eggs to be introduced to your tank without your knowledge. If you’d like to ensure no hitchhikers make their way into your tank, be sure to wash any decorations or plants before adding them to the aquarium.
When full-grown, ramshorns tend to be about one inch long, although they are tiny when they are first hatched. Their shells are a nearly perfect circle and seem to become more solid-looking as they get older. Telling the difference between male and female ramshorns is almost impossible and doesn’t really matter in the long run, as they can reproduce both sexually and asexually.
Because of this, even a single ramshorn in your aquarium can quickly become an overrun colony, which some aquarists find to be a nuisance.
Adding to the problem of overproduction, ramshorn snails can live up to three years. With this lifespan and reproductive habits, it can be very difficult to rid a tank of them if you didn’t want them from the beginning.
Feeding ramshorn snails is nearly effortless. They will eat pretty much any organic matter in your tank, whether living or dead. This is one reason that many aquarists love to have ramshorns in their tanks – they eat up debris, which means less cleaning for you! They love munching on algae, fish poop, and uneaten food that settles between substrate pieces’ cracks and crannies.
However, snails produce waste materials of their own, so be sure not to let their populations get out of control. If they overrun the tank, they will produce more waste than they clean up, which will quickly pollute an aquarium. Read more below if regular tank maintenance isn’t keeping ramshorn populations down.
If you’re raising ramshorns as pets, supplement their diet with calcium. Calcium helps their shells to grow stronger, which helps protect them from predators. Add calcium to the tank by allowing them to snack on fresh veggies like leafy greens and squash. Be sure to remove uneaten produce after a few hours. Leaving fresh veggies in a tank too long will foul the water.
Like all snails, limiting the amount of food ramshorns have access to will help keep their population in check. If young snails don’t have enough food, they will die off. Snails of reproductive age will produce fewer eggs when their diet is limited. Limiting food can be tricky in an established tank with lots of plants and animals, but removing uneaten food and regularly performing gravel vacuums will help.
Ramshorn snails are hardy little creatures and can survive in almost all freshwater aquarium conditions. Ideally, they like to be in water that is between 70 and 80 degrees with a pH between 7 and 8, although these are not strict parameters.
The ideal aquarium environment for ramshorn is a peaceful, planted community tank. They love eating algae and dead plants, so a planted tank is perfect for them. They are great at controlling algae on tank walls, plants, and decorations. If they don’t have enough sustenance from algae, uneaten fish food, and waste materials, they may eat some aquarium plants you don’t want to get eaten.
If you notice some nibble marks on your favorite plants, try adding a few algae wafers or fresh veggies to keep them satisfied.
Driftwood is another excellent addition to tanks with ramshorn snails. They love climbing over surfaces like cholla wood and exploring the crevices created by driftwood formations. You can often find them moving about over driftwood with their antennas swaying excitedly to search for food.
Any tranquil community fish will get along great in an aquarium with ramshorn snails. They are an entirely peaceful species that will not bother or harass other animals. However, ramshorns are somewhat shy and will hide from large or overly boisterous fish. They have no way of sealing their shells, so aggressive species that are known to eat snails should be avoided at all costs if you plan to keep ramshorns as pets.
There are a variety of freshwater species that do well with ramshorns. Many tetras, like the neon tetra, guppies, rasboras, and Endler’s livebearers make excellent tankmates. Even many other invertebrates like mystery snails, cherry shrimp, and nerite snails will be right at home with a colony of ramshorns.
How many ramshorn snails can be kept in an aquarium depends on the tank size and how many other animals are in the tank. By themselves, ramshorns are relatively small and don’t produce much waste – which is also called having a small bioload. A general rule of thumb for any aquarium is to have no more than one inch of fish (or snail, shrimp, or any other animal) per gallon of water. For example, by this rule, if you have a five-gallon tank, you will be able to keep five inches of fish.
Because snails have such a small bioload, if they are the only animal in the tank, it is safe to have up to two inches of snail per gallon of water. So, with a five-gallon tank, keeping up to ten snails should be quite manageable. Still, because they reproduce so rapidly, buying only a few will have your colony numbers up significantly in a matter of months, so plan accordingly.
Ramshorns as Pests
As cute and useful as ramshorn snails can be, if their population gets out of control, it can cause numerous problems. If they aren’t getting enough food from decaying plants and debris in the tank, they can start eating live plants. This creates a vicious cycle for aquarists with planted tanks, as keeping the snails from eating valuable plants while limiting their food supply is nearly impossible. If you are having problems with an infestation of ramshorn snails, there are several curing methods.
If limiting the food supply is not working as a method of snail control, there are many tank additives on the market to kill them off. However, many chemical additives that rid aquariums of snails are also harmful to fish. Many aquarium inhabitants are sensitive to copper, a common ingredient in additives made to get rid of snails. Copper will kill snails easily, but it may also cause your other fish to sicken or die. Therefore, adding chemicals to a tank should be a measure of last resort and done with great care.
Snail Eating Animals
If you’re looking to control ramshorn populations or eliminate them altogether, adding snail-eating species can be helpful. Many species of loaches, such as yo-yo and skunk loaches (although, not kuhli loaches), are known to go after snails vigorously. Pygmy puffers (also known as pea puffers) are also good candidates for snail eating options. However, both species are territorial and require special care and water parameters. Additionally, if snail shells are too hard, they can damage the beaks of pea puffers. Pea puffers with damaged beaks will have limited food options, which may cause them to sicken or die.
There is even a species of snail that eats other snails. It’s called the assassin snail! Assassin snails will ruthlessly hunt down other species of snails and gobble them up. However, assassin snails only grow to be about one to two inches long. They won’t be able to eat snails that are larger than they are, so a full grown, three inch ramshorn snail will be too big for them.
This could be a suitable method of population control, as the assassins will eat the baby snails and leave the adults alone. However, populations of assassin snails can also grow quickly out of control. Therefore, you may have cured the issue with ramshorn overpopulation to end up with an assassin snail population problem.
Culling the Population
Another method of population control is to remove snails from your tank periodically. Start by adding a few pieces of blanched vegetables to the tank around the time you would typically turn off the aquarium lights. An hour or two later, turn on the lights, and the veggies will be crawling with snails. Then, discard the vegetables along with any snails that are attached.
This may seem cruel, but releasing ramshorn snails into the wild has caused them to become an invasive species. They are an extremely resourceful and hardy species that can live in almost any freshwater environment. Releasing them into ponds, puddles, and streams outside will take resources away from local plants and animals. It may seem like a small thing to release a few snails in the pond out back, but so many people have been doing the same that they are destroying local ecosystems.
Full Tank Clean
The last method discussed here will be fully emptying and cleaning the tank. This can be a real hassle, depending on your tank’s size, and can cause undue stress on your plants and aquarium animals. Additionally, if done incorrectly, snail eggs can remain in the tank and on decorations. After refilling the tank, the eggs will hatch, and the problem will start all over again.
We don’t recommend this method until you have another existing aquarium or quarantine tank. Your other fish will need a safe and comfortable place to stay while the cleaning is being done.
- Empty the tank of all water, substrate, and decorations.
- Wipe down all tank surfaces with diluted bleach water.
- Refill the entire tank to rinse, empty, then rinse again with clean water
- Dry the interior of the tank and wait at least several hours (a few days is better, though).
- Set up the aquarium again with fresh substrate and thoroughly wash all plants and decorations that will be resued before adding them back to the tank.
- Use existing media from a snail-free tank to help accelerate the nitrogen cycle process.
- Return fish and other animals to the tank*
*If your aquarium animals are being stored in a well established tank, it is best to leave them there for several weeks before returning them to the newly cleaned tank. This will allow time for the nitrogen cycle to become established and reduce stress and risk of injury.
Are Ramshorn Snails Right for You?
Ramshorn snails are seen as lovely pets or nasty pests, depending on who you talk to. They provide many benefits to freshwater aquariums, such as consuming algae, keeping driftwood clean, and creating a calming environment with their slow, gentle movements.
However, they reproduce rapidly, and having even one egg in an aquarium can lead to an infestation. But, with proper population control measures, there are many ways to enjoy these animals without having them overrun your tank.