Clean Up Your Tank With The Assassin Snail

If you have a freshwater aquarium in your home, the thought of raising invertebrates may have crossed your mind from time to time. These delightful creature can help keep your tank clean, remove toxins from the water, and also provide significant entertainment to anyone who happens to pass by your tank.

Unfortunately, it is all too easy for some species of snails to overrun your tank. For example, some small snail species make their way into your tank by catching a ride (unnoticed, we might add!) on live plant species. These creatures are borderline invasive and can be very difficult to get rid of.

The easiest way to remove unwanted snails from your tank? Add more snails! This sounds counterintuitive, but the assassin snail does a great job of cleaning your tank of unwanted pests.

As the name implies, assassin snails are voracious killers. As carnivores, they will snack on your other snail species until they are completely eliminated. They don’t eat plants, so you won’t have to worry about them going after other organisms in your tank.

Still not convinced? They’re also quite lovely to look at, with attractive stripes that run down the length of their shells. Here are a few more reasons why you should be raising the Assassin Snail.

Assassin Snail

Assassin Snail Background

Assassin Snail2
Photo by Daniel

The assassin snail, also known scientifically as Clea helena, is a freshwater snail that is a member of the Buccinidae family. This family contains a group of species known as true whelks, which are carnivorous snails. They enjoy eating other small snails as well as other meat-based foods.

Native to southeast Asia, these snails are usually found in the rivers and lakes of warm-temperatured countries like Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. They are incredibly popular in home aquariums, but unfortunately are often released into the wild. This has led to the spread of assassin snails as invasive in many places.

Luckily, assassin snails provide a great deal of benefit to a freshwater tank, cleaning up the tank and removing unwanted species of snails. They are also affordable, costing fewer than $3 apiece, and you can often receive bulk discounts for purchasing more than one assassin snail at a time.

Assassin Snail Appearance And Behavior

Assassin Snail3
Photo by Benny

Assassin snails are small, usually only about an inch or so in length. While those snails that are found in the wild are larger than those bred for captivity, those who are fed proper diets can often be encouraged to grow quite large.

These snails vary somewhat in their appearance, with the shells of these creatures providing the greatest differentiation among the different types. Assassin snails have conical shells with yellow and brown stripes, giving them the appearance of bumblebees.

Some assassin snails do not have any stripes at all and may instead be completely brown. This is rare, however, with most assassin snails having stripes on their shells. These snails have an interesting feature of their shells known as operculums. These are somewhat like trapdoors, closing off the shell entirely when the snail chooses to hide inside.

The snail also has a muscular foot inside the shell. This foot is very strong and helps move the snail forward at a slow pace. These snails also have short tentacles on their heads. These tentacles are incredibly sensitive and help the snail look for food and move around the tank. They also have eyes at the end of the tentacle that can detect both motion and light.

Assassin snails, like other snails, are very slow-moving creatures. While they won’t provide al to of action or movement to the tank, they will work quickly at getting rid of any unwanted snail species.

These creatures are mostly nocturnal, coming out at night to feed. However, if you begin to feed them during the day, they will get into the habit of coming out during daytime hours, too, and will head immediately to the food supply. These snails spend most of their day digging down into the substrate, lying in wait for any movement above them. When they sense movement, they will strike, consuming other small snail species.

Assassin snails, despite their monikers, are not known for being aggressive – they won’t bother your other fish. However, keep in mind that any others low-moving species (particularly those that are smaller than the assassin snail) will be viewed as a potential source of food.

Assassin Snail Tank And Water Requirements

Assassin Snail4
Photo by Diana MacPherson

Assassin snails are native to the freshwaters of southeast Asia. These bodies of water tend to be tropical and have slow currents. They are alkaline and incredibly well-lit. The snails prefer to live on soft, sandy substrate, which makes it easier for them to bury themselves for safety and to hunt for food. They also form miniature cave dwellings in the rocks and debris on top of the water.

Assassin snails aren’t picky about what kind of decorations and plans there are in the tank. In most cases, the snails will leave plants alone, as they prefer to eat meat-based foods. They will rarely use them as shelter. Other than providing a soft, sandy substrate and a slow moving current in your tank, there’s not much that you need to do to make them comfortable.

Mimicking the ideal conditions of an assassin snail’s wild environment is critical, as you will need to make your snail feel at home. In particular, the substrate should be soft and small enough so that it doesn’t damage the delicate tentacles and body of the snail.

Assassin snails can even be kept in paludariums. While some snails will eat the plants and other organisms in a paludarium, assassin snails will mostly leave them alone. You can add decorations if you’d like, but this is not necessary. Keep in mind that if you plan to breed assassin snails, plants can be helpful, as they give your snails a place to attach their eggs.

The water in your tank should be heated and filtered. Conditions need to be kept relatively stable because your snail’s health can become compromised if anything fluctuates too much. Temperatures should be steady between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, while pH should be maintained in the range of 7 to 8. Water should be slightly hard, as this will help enhance the production of your snail’s shell.

Fast flowing water is not recommended, as assassin snails tend to live in slower-moving bodies of water. Lighting also is not mandatory, as they can thrive in any level of lighting. What’s more important is that you keep your assassin snails in a large tank. Ten gallons is the minimum recommended size, with larger tanks recommended over smaller ones. Generally speaking, you can keep two assassin snails for every five gallons of water.

You should be careful about housing your assassin snail in a tank that is too small. Although these creatures are tiny, you can easily encounter problems with water quality if you are trying to support large populations of assassin snails. They grow and reproduce rapidly, and as they grow larger and hungrier, you will need more space.

In addition, you tank should be lidded. Assassin snails will crawl up the walls of your tank and can easily escape and accidentally kill themselves if they do so. Cover any power filter intakes with a sponge pre-filter. Assassin snails can sometimes get their bodies and heads trapped in the openings. This can cause injury or even death.

What Do Assassin Snails Eat?

Assassin Snail1
Photo by Fanney Baldursdottir

Assassin snails are carnivores, so they won’t eat any vegetables or plants in your tank. Unlike other snails, they also avoid algae. Make sure you don’t invest in a group of assassin snails with the intention of removing all of the built-up algae in your tank – this just won’t work! Instead, consider purchasing one of these excellent algae eaters to do the job for you.

Assassin snails will eat other snails, so it’s not unheard of for fishkeepers to use assassin snails for pest control. You might want to consider raising assassin snails if you have a problem with trumpet or ramshorn snails in your tank. Interestingly, assassin snails won’t go after each other, even the young or eggs of their species.

They prefer lots of live, meaty foods such as bloodworms and brine shrimp. These foods are very close to what this species eats in the wild so they can help keep them healthy. They will occasionally eat pellet or flake foods. Algae wafers are another popular food sources as they contain high amounts of protein. You can also feed soft snail eggs and shrimp fry to your assassin snails.

Remember that you are what you eat, and that is rarely truer than with the assassin snail. The foods that you feed your assassin snail will impact how well they grow. Snails eat at their own pace, with the exact amount of food needed per individual varying drastically between species. These creatures will eat different amounts every day and will also eat any leftover fish food – a bonus if you’re trying to keep your tank clean!

Assassin snails bury themselves in the substrate, waiting for a snack. They will often eat small snails as they move above them, and assassin snails will frequently attack snails that are both larger and smaller than them. Snails that do not have operculums, like ramshorn snails, are the most likely to be eaten, although assassin snails will rarely discriminate. They will eat soft snail eggs but will avoid hard nerite snail eggs. They occasionally also eat shrimp fry.

Assassin Snail Tank Mates

Assassin snails are amicable creatures that get along well with most other fish. It is recommended that you try to keep them with peaceful fish. While your snails won’t pay a lot of attention to your fish, they are often viewed as prey by larger, more territorial fish species.

That being said, most small community fish make excellent tank mates for assassin snails. You can add species like celestial danios, neon tetras, guppies, and cherry barbs to keep your nails company. If a larger fish is what you have in mind, consider adding gouramis, angelfish, or rainbowfish. Whatever you do, just make sure the fish species you select are peaceful by nature.

Many people wrongfully assume that bottom-dwelling fish will make good tank mates. However, this is a dangerous misconception. Bottom-dwelling fish often view assassin snails as prey, and because they occupy the same area of the tank, this can be dangerous. You can opt for peaceful scavengers like Otocinclus or Corydoras catfish, however.

You can even house assassin snails with other species of snails. While they will choose to eat small pest species of snails, they usually won’t harm larger species like nerite snails or mystery snails.

When all else fails, you can definitely keep assassin snails with other assassin snails, too. They don’t need company in order to stay happy and healthy, but you can keep assassin snails with others as they usually will ignore each other.

Common Assassin Snail Diseases

Assassin snails aren’t prone to any particular diseases besides the ones that tend to befall other freshwater snails. However, it’s important that you remember to provide your snail with proper nutrition so that you don’t have to worry about their shells becoming malformed. Assassin snails need lots of calcium, and while they can get most of this from their diet, you may need to provide a supplement every now and then.

A weak shell can encourage lots of health problems in your assassin snails. A weak shell can crack and break, killing your snail. In addition, a shell’s growth can be stunted if temperatures are low or the proper diet isn’t being provided. You might even notice white growths forming on your assassin snail’s shell – these are often a sign of parasites in the tank.

You should keep copper away from your assassin snail’s tank. Copper is toxic to most invertebrates. If you are using a copper-based medication for one of your fish, be mindful of the presence of your assassin snails, as this can be catastrophic.

Assassin snails, like other freshwater invertebrates and fish, are extremely susceptible to poor water quality. You should make a point of cleaning your tank every week or every other week (at the very least) to make sure your animals stay healthy. Regular water changes will help keep nitrate levels low.

In some cases, you might find your snail floating. While this isn’t terribly common, it usually isn’t a cause for alarm. However, if your snail has done this for several days, it could be dead, so make sure you inspect it to make sure it is okay.

Sometimes assassin snails will have short or practically invisible tentacles. Sometimes fish will go after the tentacles of assassin snails and will nip until they are gone. Luckily, assassin snails don’t suffer much from this behavior, as long as some tentacles remain. They usually regrow the lost tentacle, although it will sometimes be thin and short compared to the other ones.

There are other chemicals that can also interact poorly with your assassin snails. In particular, you should avoid using malachite green (which is often used to treat ich or white spot), trichlorfon, metriphonate, and formaldehyde. You should also avoid Parricide D, which is used to treat helminths and worms in your tank.

In most cases, diseases can be prevented in the tank by providing your assassin snail with the proper diet and making sure the tank is clean at all times. House your assassin snail only with appropriate tank mates, and be vigilant and cautious about any chemicals or medicines you add to the tank. Preventing most of these diseases is easy as long as you stay on top of things.

Breeding And Life Spans Of Assassin Snails

Interestingly, assassin snails are one of the few species of snails that are not hermaphrodites. There are two different genders but it can be difficult to differentiate the males from the females. If you are interested in breeding assassin snails, you won’t have a lot of success in buying specific breeding pairs. Instead, you should just invest in numerous assassin snails to make sure you have a solid chance of having members of both sexes in your tank.

Assassin snails breed only in freshwater, laying eggs one at a time. You will often be able to see a large group of single eggs clustered close to each other. Eggs are yellow and are enclosed in a translucent rectangular enclosure. These enclosures can be affixed to driftwood, the glass of the tank, or even lava rocks. Eggs turn from yellow to light brown after a few days of being in the tank.

Assassin snails will couple up after breeding and follow each other around for hours at a time. They may even stick to each other! After mating, females will lay small eggs on hard surfaces. These hatch within 30 days, releasing juveniles into the tank. The juveniles will spend the next six months burrowed into the substrate.

There is little you need to do to initiate the breeding process in assassin snails. In some cases, temperatures that are too low can discourage this from starting, as can males that are overly zealous. These snails tend to reproduce prolifically, yet they will do so without overrunning your tank.

Is An Assassin Snail For You?

If you’ve moved beyond beginning fishkeeping and are ready to take your community tank to the next level, you should consider raising assassin snails. These gorgeous creatures are fun to watch and require little beyond a proper diet and a nice, sandy substrate.

As long as you can commit to keeping your tank clean and you have peaceful community fish in your tank, there’s not much you need to do to keep your assassin snails healthy. In return, they will remove any pest species of snails for your tank, helping to keep it clean and balanced. ‘’

While the assassin snail may not be the best at eating algae, this species serves a distinct (and important!) purpose in any freshwater community tank.

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