There’s no mystery as to why you would want to keep a snail in your freshwater tank. As slow-moving and peaceful herbivores, snails have the ability to keep your tank clean and provide you with endless opportunities for entertainment.
While other snails like nerite snails can do a good job at keeping your tank clean, many people prefer to raise mystery snails. These creatures are fun to raise and easy to breed, making them an optimal choice for nay freshwater setting. If you’ve been dragging your feet about whether raising mystery snails is a good choice for you, consider our ultimate guide and get started today.
Mystery snails go by many names, but the most accurate is the scientific name, Pomacea bridgesii. As with all other snails, these creatures are members of the class Gastropoda and have many characteristics in common with other members. That being said, you may have heard mystery snails being referred to by many other names, such as spike topped apple snail, mystery apple snail, golden mystery snail, and more.
Mystery snails are one of the most common aquarium species and can therefore be found at just about any aquarium or pet store. When you purchase your snail, make sure you take the time to observe the behavior of the group of snails in the tank. Select only the ones who are already moving or somehow attached to a surface – this indicates good overall health and liveliness.
A snail with a cracked or otherwise damaged shell should never be purchased, as it will not be in good health. It’s not uncommon for shells to be lying around at the bottom of the tank, too, so you could very well get home and realize you didn’t purchase a snail at all, but in fact just carried home its shell.
In the wild, mystery snails will live for about a year or so, eating dead plants and other detritus and helping to clean the environment around them. They are a critical part of their aquatic environments, as they return nutrients that were trapped in the detritus back to the ecosystem, allowing for valuable resources to be recycled.
There are multiple other species of this snail throughout the world, particularly in China and in Japan. These species are considered invasive in some areas, and those found in China and Japan are technically from a different family. Brought to California for the food trade because of their size, they are now frequently used in the aquarium trade.
Mystery snails can also be found in Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil, but they have spread to many other areas throughout the world and have become a problem species. The Chinese variant in particular is a problem in the northern portions of North America, where they are overtaking native snails.
In the wild, mystery snails live in rivers, swamps, and ponds, where they prefer to feed on dead or decomposing plant matter. They will also eat live plants, but they much prefer dying ones and will spend most of their time grazing on the bottom of whatever water it is that they are in.
Mystery Snail Appearance And Behavior
Mystery snail have unique appearances. They have complex eyes that are placed atop a cephalic eyestalk. This eyestalk has no sensory organs, and can actually completely regenerate itself within just a few weeks if it is, for whatever reason, severed.
These creatures come in multiple different colors, with the most popular being the black, brown, gold, and ivory shades. These colors are unique and can add a new dimension to your freshwater tank. Shells can be solid or banded, with some even gradient. The options for colors and patterns in this snail’s appearance are virtually limitless.
The snail’s shells are unique. While most snails have a spiral whorl that starts at the top of the shell and expands downward into the opening, as do mystery snails, they only have four whorls compared to many more on other snails. They have an operculum, or a plate used to close the opening from the shell, and the top of the shell is somewhat off to the side.
The mystery snail’s operculum looks not unlike a large nail when the snail is in its shell. This operculum is a great way to determine whether the snail is alive and healthy, as it will fall off when the snail dies and will not properly close if something is wrong with the snail’s health.
Mystery snails have two large tentacles atop their heads. They use these to sense their environment as well as to find food. Behind the tentacles are the aforementioned eyes, which also help to detect motion and light. These two features help the snail find food and to tell the snail if predators are nearby.
Below the eyes and tentacles are the snails’ mouths, along with a second pair of tentacles that they use for feeding. They also have siphons on the sides of their heads that they use to filter water through their gills. Most mystery snails will grow to about two inches in diameter. They are small, allowing them to be housed with relative ease in small and large tanks alike.
Mystery snails are some of the most peaceful organisms you can keep inside your tank. They will spend most of their days keeping to themselves and not bothering other creatures, instead grazing idly on the algae along the glass.
If they are approached by a more aggressive fish, the snails will simply retreat to their shells and hide. This is a defense mechanism, and while their shells will protect them, retreating to the shell indicates that the snail is afraid and will be stressed. A stressed snail cleans less efficiently and will also be less active and in poorer health. Therefore, it’s important that you only house your snails with peaceful fish so that it is not overwhelmed.
Sometimes, your snail will crawl all the way to the top of the tank and then let go abruptly before falling to the bottom. This is a natural behavior and not something to be worried about. The same theory applies if the snails have a tendency to slide quickly down the glass.
Mystery Snail Tank And Water Requirements
If you decide that keeping a mystery snail is right for you, make sure the tank you house the snail in is heavily planted. You need lots of vegetation so that you can provide your snail with natural food. Popular choices include hornwort, Java moss, and Java fern. These are all extremely hardy and will provide your snails with a place to hide as well as a place to find delicious algae.
When the water in your tank is low, it is not uncommon for your snail to move out of the water. Use a tight-fitting lid on your aquarium tank, which will prevent your snail from escaping from the tank.
Mystery snails are known for being hardy under most conditions, but as with other aquarium inhabitants, they can be highly susceptible to changes in water quality. They prefer highly oxygenated and moderately quick moving waters, which is another reason why vegetation is important for their habitat. Vegetation can help increase the oxygen content of your water, which will help your mystery snails thrive.
Otherwise, mystery snails don’t need a lot to be happy. Try to keep the temperature between 68- and 84-degrees Fahrenheit, but remember that minor variations will not matter much as long as there are not major swings or dips in temperature. The water should have a kH value of 12 to 18, and a pH between 7.6 and 8.4.
It is important that you maintain a relatively high pH if you are raising mystery snails. pH levels that are too low can actually dissolve the fragile shells of the snails, which are made out of calcium carbonate. This can make it more likely for the shell to become cracked, thinned, or pitted, which can make them more susceptible to injury from other fish.
Mystery snails should be placed in a tank that has a hard substrate. Choose a material like sand, gravel, or pebbles, which will make it easier for your snail to move. While they can tolerate any substrate type, keep in mind that these work best, and then make the final decision based on the needs of the other inhabitants of your tank.
You don’t need a massive tank to house a mystery snail – five to ten gallons is perfectly fine. If you plan on keeping multiple snails or housing them with many their species of fish or other creatures, a larger tank will also suffice. These snails are highly adaptable and can thrive in either setting. Generally, you should keep one or two snails for every five gallons, which will give them plenty of room to graze as well as lots of algae to consume.
Decorating A Mystery Snail Tank
The best substrate for a mystery snail tank is one that is smooth with no sharp edges, yet provides enough of a surface for your snails to slide across. You can cover the bottom of your tank with the material, about two to three inches thick. You can vary this depending on whether you have other inhabitants living in your tank.
Try to avoid using painted stones or decorations of any kind. Because mystery snails come into contact with just about everything, paint that flakes can damage their health quickly. You should also avoid stones that are naturally red or orange, as these can contain copper, which is toxic to snails. Always rinse any decorations before you add them to the tank.
Adding aquarium decorations is a good idea when you have snails, because plants help oxygenate the water to get rid of waste and also give your snails a place to hide. Decorations should be only those that are designed for aquarium use, and you should make sure they aren’t designed so that your snails can get stuck inside. If you use live plants, keep in mind that your snails may occasionally nibble on them, but usually won’t unless they feel particularly hungry or are underfed in general.
What Do Mystery Snails Eat?
Mystery snails are voracious eaters, preferring to feed on dead or decaying plants. They will eat algae that builds up on surfaces, such as rocks or sand, and are opportunistic scavengers – they will eat anything they can get their tentacles on!
Try to maintain an adequate level of vegetation in your tank to allow the snails with plenty of natural food sources. Plants shed as they grow, so providing vegetation will give your snails food along with the naturally occurring algae.
Mystery snails will suck on the glass and eat the algae growing on it, which is a top incentive for many people who are considering raising mystery snails. There’s less work involved for you in cleaning the tank, and less you have to do to ensure your tank’s health.
You will be able to see the tracks of the snails as they feed along on the algae. This is because mystery snails have a body part known as a radula. This radula is used to scrape the glass and to remove algae, and it leaves a tread-like pattern in its wake.
Mystery snails will eat just about any kind of algae, but will need to have their diets supplemented with certain minerals in order to keep them healthy. Consider adding flakes, pellets, or even bottom feeder tablets to help your mystery snails thrive.
Mystery snails also enjoy eating vegetables. You can feed your snails leafy greens like lettuce or even diced vegetables such as zucchini. Make sure you wash and softly blanch these foods before feeding them, and remember to never overfeed or leave food in the tank for too long. Putting more food in the tank than its inhabitants can eat is a recipe for disaster, as it can lead to health problems within your community.
Mystery Snail Tank Mates
Mystery snails tend to keep to themselves, and as a result will have minimal interaction with other fish in the tank. This is, of course, not counting when other fish consider the snails food, and they consequently feel threatened. You should avoid keeping them with predatory fish like Oscars, crayfish, and cichlids, as their behaviors are too aggressive to permit them to be kept in harmony with mystery snails.
Good companions for mystery snails include fish like killifish, guppies, and tetras, who will generally mind their own business. Other invertebrates are also good companions for your mystery snail, as they will allow them to carry on without threatening them. You might consider creatures like amano, cherry, or ghost shrimp to get started, but other snails, like ramshorn or nerite snails, are also top choices.
Mystery snails are not territorial or combative and can live with other mystery snails in harmony. As long as they have plenty of space to grow and move around, they will be fine. Try to keep one snail to every five gallons of water, and do your best not to exceed that ratio, as it will overcrowd your tank.
Overcrowding can create many potential problems within your tank as well as among your other aquarium inhabitants. It can cause serious health problems from damaged shells, along with a lack of food and too much accumulation of waste products in the wild. When in doubt, don’t risk it, and either switch to a larger tank or resist the temptation to add more snails.
Common Mystery Snail Diseases
Mystery snails tend to be relatively healthy, but there are some diseases to which they are prone. The most common issue among mystery snails is that of a damaged shell. Maintaining a high pH and giving your snails calcium supplements can help prevent this problem.
While you can patch your snails’ shells, this is a challenging process and can be quite risky. To do this, you need to remove the snail from the tank and apply an aquarium-specific epoxy. However, it’s not recommended that you try this unless you have experience in doing so.
Other diseases include grub worms and rat lungworms. Rat lungworms are parasites and are typically found in rodents when they are in their adult forms. However, when they are in the larval stage, they will often use snails as temporary homes until they grow into adulthood. While this is definitely more common in the wild, as the species won’t interact in the aquarium trade, you should still be aware of its potential. It is unlikely, but can occur if your snails are exposed to the right (or rather, wrong) environment.
Grub worms are also more common in the wild, and typically are found in aquariums when wild caught snails were used. These worms look like small white cysts on the foot (the moving part) of the snail. These parasites are released into the water column when the cysts are ruptured, and can quickly spread to fish. The flukes, or mini-parasites, will produce cysts on the flesh of the fish and stay there until the host fish dies.
Grub worms cannot reproduce inside the tank, but can be spread quickly once they enter a tank environment. Make sure you never introduce wild snails into your tank, and always quarantine any new tank inhabitants before introducing them to the community tank.
Breeding Mystery Snails
Many people wonder if they can successfully breed their mystery snails, and the good news is that the breeding process is straightforward and has been carried out numerous times in captivity. Breeding your mystery snails will allow you to increase your populations without being required to go out and buy new snails.
Mystery snails are gonochoristic, meaning a male and a female are necessary for reproduction. Beyond making sure you have both male and female snails in your tank, all you need to do to get your snails ready to breed is wait – you don’t need to alter the water conditions or tank in any way.
If you want to encourage your snails to breed and it doesn’t seem as though they are doing so, you can influence this behavior by lowering the water level ever so slightly. This will give the snails more room to lay their eggs. You should also ensure there is plenty of food available to your breeding snails, as they will only spawn when they are positive that there is enough food to feed the next generation of snails.
When she is ready to reproduce. the female snail will lay her eggs above or just at the water’s surface. Snails leave their eggs in cocoons, making them easier to spot and remove if, for whatever reason, you do not want young snails in your tank.
Keep in mind that if your snails lay eggs above the water, the air surrounding the egg cocoon must be moist so that the eggs can hatch. It usually takes about a month for them to do so. Once the eggs have hatched, the baby snails will fall to the bottom of the tank, immediately behaving as adults in that they will eat the same food and have the same behaviors as their parents.
Is A Mystery Snail For You?
If you’re considering raising mystery snails in your tank, you are making a wise choice. These creatures are fun to watch and are quite skilled at keeping your tank sparkly clean. They are easy to keep, requiring minimal upkeep or expertise.
Mystery snails are a great addition to any freshwater tank, offering versatility and function at the same time. They are not difficult to find in any pet or aquarium store, making them an obvious choice for a community aquarium no matter where you live.