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Snails: Fish Tank Friends AND Foes

The home aquarium enthusiast hopes his or her fish tank is one that enables marine life to happily grow inside of its confined perimeters. An aquarium that is relatively self-sufficient, requiring only routine cleaning and feeding, is often the goal.

With this in mind, many enthusiasts set to recreate the natural ecosystem that would be present in the wild, including predators, prey and scavengers to keep the tank in top form. A snail is a creature that naturally scours the tank and often fish tank lovers introduce them to the tank with mixed results.

Snails are mollusks, meaning they have a soft body and a protective shell. There are more than 80,000 known varieties of snails, many of which are marine animals. Most marine snails are scavengers that feed on decaying plants, dead fish and algae. Some are carnivorous and look to feed on other creatures like themselves. Because they are known to scour the tank, snails can be beneficial to the aquarium environment.

But snails have earned a bad reputation in aquarium circles. That's because, if left unchecked, snails can proliferate quickly and become a tank nuisance. Snails prefer alkaline water, which keeps their shell strong and healthy. An alkaline tank may contribute to snail reproduction.

Aquatic snails have both hermaphroditic (both sexual organs on one snail) and heterosexual reproduction. Most snails lay eggs. However, a notable exception to this is the Malaysian Trumpet Snail, which is a live-bearer. With the right conditions in the tank, snails can bloom very quickly, which is often why they get a bad rap.

Snails tend to feed on decaying plant matter, excess food and even some dead fish, traits that can be beneficial in the tank to an extent. Individuals who over-feed their fish and have excess flakes lying around the tank could see their snail population explode. Feeding fish only what they can eat in 5 minutes tends to reduce food waste and snail overpopulation. Snail predators in the tank can also keep snails in check. There are some fish that feed on snails, such as the Clown Loach and Pufferfish.

For those who feel that snails have gotten out of control, there are some ways to remove snails from the tank. Pet stores sell chemical products that can kill off the snails. The trouble is they also may get rid of beneficial bacteria in the tank or harm other fish as well.

Aquarium snails can be a beneficial addition to a home aquarium when the snail population is carefully monitored. Otherwise, snails can get out of control and overrun the tank quite easily.