Snail Infestations and Solutions to Eliminating Them
I have noticed in several forums, people suggest drastic solutions to eliminate something as harmless as planaria aside from being swamped by private messages of how to eliminate them. Herein is the article to decide your options so you choose wisely your decisions and avoid disastrous consequences.
Where do "pest" snails originate? How come there are so many of them that I had not introduced before?
Generally, snails tend to hike among plants and in some species, lay their eggs on the plant stalks and leaves. This is a case often seen with the common ramshorns (Planorbis sp.) and pouch snails (Physas sp.). Baby snails can also end up there undetected due to their size. Ramshorns are easily distinguishable by their flat spiral shaped shells.
These snails have gathered a reputation for being responsible in the destruction of the aquarium plants as well as etch such reputation to the name of other snails which is absolutely not true. Not all snails can proliferate as quickly as the pouch snails and ramshorns but neither are the two species that destructive to plants contrary to claims unless their other food options are scarce (to be discussed later).
Malaysian trumpet snails (Melanoides sp.) are another species often found in the trade. They can be characterized by their trumpet shaped shells. These are livebearing snails meaning they do not lay eggs but give birth to dozens of young snails which are easily undetected. They spend most of their time buried under the substrate and will not appear until foods are dropped or when darkness falls.
Why do most people despise these snails?
Simple. These snails proliferate quickly and in large numbers, they can become an eyesore as they are found everywhere from your gravel bed to filters. Most filters become clogged by the numbers of snails trapped in the motor leaving to obstruction of flow.
Do these snails eat plants?
In most cases, they do not. It depends whether you are feeding sufficiently or the species of snails although all the common hitchhikers are not known to do great damage on planted tanks. People fail to point out that plants can have health problems and most of these cases are pointed to lack of nutrients and minerals. A lot of these snails are scavengers and like to eat decaying plant matter so it is purely coincidental they eat the dead plants and dying parts of a healthy plants to nutrient deficiency.
What are the benefits of these snails?
These snails are often overlooked for their usefulness. They remove the leftover foods which are responsible for the rapid deterioration of the water quality, eat decaying plant matter and in the Malaysian trumpet snails' case, aerate the substrate by their constant burrowing. I have been using the MTS to constantly burrow the substrate with great results thus preventing anaerobic pockets from forming which could form the deadly hydrogen sulfide causing acute health problems for the fish and the snails alike.
How can these snails be eliminated or minimized?
This has been a very common subject among those who have experienced keeping thousands of these snails in a tank. People do drastic measures to the point even boiling their gravel to kill the snails yet again, the snails recover their population after weeks of not being detected.
Here are a few widely known solutions. Not all solutions will eradicate the snails completely however nor are some of the solutions considered safe for use.
1. Manual Removal
This is perhaps the safest solution. You simply pluck the snails within sight and crush them to kill them instantly. Most fish love to eat snails so this is one benefit gained from this method. When you crush the snails, the fish swarm and try to pick on the snails and eventually devour them. Crushing however will not work for snails with very hard shells such as the Malaysian trumpet snails. I tried to crush them with my fingernails and ended up damaging my fingernails mildly and hurting them at the same time so I had to resort to using a hammer before feeding them to my fish.
This method is much more preferred than the manual removal. You simply bait the snails with vegetable matter such as cucumber slices, lettuce, carrots, etc. Once they gather into a piece of vegetable, remove the whole piece and discard it to the bin with the snails attached.
3. Feeding Cutoff
Overfeeding is the main culprit for the overpopulation of snails. Try to avoid feeding your fish generously and siphon away the leftovers. If possible, give your fish five minutes to eat their food. Snails thrive on the abundance of the food. By cutting off the food supply, many snails are unable to survive due to starvation and will eventually die thus reducing the number drastically.
4. Assassin Snails
Assassin snails (Clea helena) appeared in the hobby in 2007. These are voracious predators that relish other snails for food. Generally, they target smaller specimens by stabbing them with their siphon liquidating the prey in the process. They then eat the remains of the dead snails. There have been a few incidents involving larger snails being victimized by these small predators. The assassins work as a group and begin to gang up the larger prey. The prey eventually succumbs from the attacks and they take turns eating the remains. These snails, as a precaution, should not be mixed with anything but the snails intended as food for the assassin snails. If possible, get a spare 5g tank to breed the pouch snails so you will have constant supply of food for the assassins. In the absence of snails, assassins can take readily to meaty foods such as bloodworms. Assassin snails are not as prolific as most commonly available snails. Neither are they recorded to be fast growers and baby assassins spend most of their time buried in the substrate and they will not appear until they gain half an inch size or so.
5. Loaches and Puffers
This is a controversial subject as it involves the use of fish for very few good reasons other than to be used to eradicate the snails. Loaches of the botiine genus and puffers are often exploited for snail eliminations. I am on a firm belief that this is a very poor excuse to begin with. When the loaches and puffers completely eradicated the snails, what happens next? A lot of people treat loaches as an afterthought compared to other species and do not give them enough supplemental foods that they simply starve to death. If you like loaches and puffers, then it is not a problem however using them solely to eradicate snails is another story. All requirements of both fish must be considered when you buy them. If you cannot properly accommodate the fish at all, then consider the other options before this. Puffers in general are not good community fish as they will harass other tankmates.
There are plenty other fish that will work well with most snails. Bettas, goldfish and most cichlids have been known to pick on the snails and subsequently devour them. However, all the same, they should be treated like other fish and not solely to destroy the snails.
6. Copper Sulfate or Unchelated Copper
I have seen many cases with disastrous consequences involving the use of copper. Copper is toxic to all invertebrates in high concentrations especially when not chelated (where the toxicity is reduced drastically). It will take a long time before you can completely remove the copper as it will stick on silicon sealant, decorations, etc and will leach over time. Copper tainted tanks are rendered unsafe for all invertebrates. To determine the amount of copper traces in your tank, you will need to get a copper test kit although not all test kits are entirely reliable.
When the invertebrates die from the copper's toxic effects, they foul up quickly and can contribute to the dangerously rising ammonia levels. Rising ammonia levels will eventually destroy your fish especially scaleless ones thus this method is best not recommended when attempting to eradicate a vast number of snails.
7. Complete Tank Cleanover
This is not an advisable method and it will never work. Some snails and snail eggs are bound to survive the harrowing process and the fish will have to endure the stressful cleanover which is not worth the time to clean the whole tank just to remove the snails which have done nothing harmful to your tank.