Mystery snails are one of the most popular additions to freshwater tanks. These slow-moving, peaceful herbivores, let you sit back whilst they do some of the cleaning for you.
Most people will buy snails, such as nerite snails, to clean the glass and rocks of algae. No matter what level of experience, any community tank will benefit from these Gastropods.
In this article, we will talk about how to care for these fun little snails, including their appearance, breeding eggs, compatibility with other species, and much more…
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Mystery Snail Facts & Overview
|Color:||Brown, black, blue, purple, gold, and white
|Minimum Tank Size:||5 gallons|
|Tank Setup:||Moderate vegetation, adaptable|
These snails have many names, one being the scientific name Pomacea bridgesii. Like all snails, they are members of the class Gastropoda. However, most people will use the common name mystery snail or common apple snail.
There are lots of other names for this snail including; mystery apple snail, golden mystery snail, spike topped apple snail, and Pomacea australis. The correct scientific name however is Pomacea bridgesii.
Because they are so common among aquarists, use the following general rule when purchasing snails for your tank. Take a few minutes to observe the group of snails at the store and pick the ones who are moving or attached to a surface; never buy a snail that has a cracked or damaged shell.
The worst feeling when buying a snail is getting home only to realize the beautiful shell you picked out is just that: a shell.
In the wild, these snails will live for around 1 year. They eat dead plants and clean the environment. This allows any nutrients that are trapped in detritus to be returned back to the ecosystem.
A really interesting feature is their complex eyes which are placed on a cephalic eyestalk. There are no other sensory organs in the eyestalk, so it can completely regrow after a few short weeks if severed.
Another interesting note is there are other species of this snail from China under the scientific name of Cipangopaludina chinensis and Japan under the scientific name Cipangopaludina japonica. They are considered invasive species in some areas.
Both the Chinese and Japanese snails are members of a different family; Viviparidae. They were originally brought to California for the food trade due to their size. Common apple snails are used in the aquarium trade.
This article will focus on the common apple snail, Pomacea bridgesii.
These snails are one of the most peaceful creatures you can have in your tank. They spend the majority of their time grazing on the algae that build up on the glass.
If approached by an aggressive fish, they will simply hunker down and hide in their shell. This does mean that keeping them with peaceful fish is important. Making sure they are not scared all the time means they will be more active and able to clean the tank more effectively.
On occasions, you might see the snails go to the top of the tank only to let go and free fall to the bottom. Sometimes they will only let go of part of the foot and slid down the glass quickly.
Mystery snails come in a wide range of colors. The most popular are the black or brown, gold, and ivory variants. These colors will add a nice touch to your freshwater tank.
You may also come across stocks of Albino Mystery Snails too. These are much paler than other varieties, though they may still have subtle patterns of brown or gold stripes.
The shells come in solid, to banded, to a gradient color and the bright almost white head and foot color, add a pop of color. The color and pattern possibilities in these snails are almost endless.
They will grow to about 2 inches in diameter at most. This relatively small size allows them to be included in both small and large tanks.
When people think of snails they think of the spiral whorl starting at the apex (the top) and expanding downward to the aperture or opening.
This is no different for these snails, but their apex is more to the side of their aperture. As adults they only have about 4 whorls, all of which are relatively small.
Another part of their anatomy is an operculum which is the plate that is used to close the opening of the shell.
Their operculum looks like a big nail when the snail is closed and is a good way to see if your snail is alive and healthy. The operculum will fall off when the organism dies and will not properly close if something is wrong with the snail.
One of the most important parts of their anatomy is the head. They possess two large tentacles that are used to sense their environment and find food. Directly behind these long tentacles are their eyes which detect motion and light.
Both of these together help to find food and to alert the snail of predators. If a predator is spotted, the snail will tuck into the shell and close the operculum until they are safe.
Below this is their mouth and a second pair of tentacles that are used for feeding. They also have a siphon on the left side of the head used to pass water through their gills.
Habitat and Tank Conditions
This species is found in Paraguay, Brazil and Bolivia, however they have now began to spread as invasive species to other parts of the world. The Chinese species especially is becoming a problem in the northern states of North America.
Natively they live in ponds, swamps and rivers where they can feed on dead or decomposing plants. They will feed on live plants but only when no other source is available. They spend most of their time grazing on the bottom of the environment.
The only thing they must watch out for is any fish or other creature that can break their tough shell. This can be any large fish or bird that may be lurking in the water.
To keep these snails right at home, keep your tank full of vegetation. This not only looks nice but also gives plenty of natural food. Common plants to include are Java Fern, Java Moss, and Hornwort; all of which are incredibly hardy.
These snails tend to swim out of the water, especially when food is low. Use a tight-fitting lid to ensure that all your snails stay in your aquarium.
They are hardy by nature but try to avoid rapid changes in water conditions. They are well adapted for moderately moving, highly oxygenated waters.
This is another reason why they are often added to tropical community tanks. The high oxygen levels are achieved through vegetation which is a key feature in many tropical communities.
As for water conditions, the numbers are straightforward:
- pH level range: 7.6-8.4
- Temperature range: 68°F-84°F
- Water type: kH 12-18
The thing to keep note here is the relatively high pH. Low levels of pH can start to dissolve the calcium carbonate shells of the snails leaving them open to harm from other fish. Cracked, thin, or pitted shells can be a sign of low pH as well as low levels of calcium.
Adding calcium supplements can help ensure their shells are strong and healthy.
Having hard substrates like pebbles, gravel, or sand will make it easy to move for these snail but they do not need one specific kind. Each substrate will provide a different utility in your tank, so make the choice based on the rest of your tanks needs.
What Size Aquarium Do They Need?
Mystery snails will do well in almost all size tanks. Because they do so well with community tanks it is best to keep them in an established community with a 5 or 10 gallon tank. They also work well in larger tanks.
How Many Mystery Snail Per Gallon?
You can keep 1 or 2 snails for every 5 gallons. This gives them enough space to move and eat as they please.
These snails have little interaction with the fish in the tank unless they are being eaten. Yet another reason peaceful fish are a must.
If you’re looking to keep the Gastropod theme going then consider Ramshorn Snails, Ivory Snails, and Nerite Snails.
People often worry about keeping Mystery Snails with a Betta, but this should not be an issue if they are all getting enough food. They will live peacefully alongside your Betta and even clean up after them.
The same goes for most species of snails. They can be great tank mates if you’re worried that your Betta is getting lonely.
Keeping Mystery Snails Together
These animals will live together with very little issue. They will even live peacefully with other freshwater snails and invertebrates so long as they all have enough space to live and grow.
The only thing to keep in mind is how many you have per gallon. The rule of 1 fish to 5 gallons is one that applies to snails too. It is a good rule of thumb as to not overcrowd your tank.
Overcrowding is a problem for the tank itself and the well-being of your snails. Having too many can cause several health problems from damaged shells to lack of food or growth defects.
In the wild, these snails will feed on dead and rotting plants. They will also graze on algae build up on any surface such as rocks or sand. They are very optimistic scavengers by nature, which means they will eat a wide range of food.
Because of this, you want to keep a medium to high level of vegetation, thus giving them a natural food source. Plants will naturally shed as they grow and this gives your snails perfect food on top of the naturally growing algae.
They will suck onto the glass and eat the algae that grow off it. This is one of the biggest reasons people buy these little cleaners; keeping the glass clean for longer means less work for you.
If you haven’t cleaned the glass by hand, it is likely that you will be able to see the “tracks” of the snails as they move along and graze. They have what is called a radula which is what they use to scrape the glass and remove algae, leaving a “tire tread” pattern in their wake.
A great thing to see that lets you know you’re not the only one trying to keep the tank clean.
While these snails will likely be just fine on algae and plant matter, adding supplements will keep them healthy providing them with the right minerals they need. Bottom feeder tablets, flakes, or pellets will all enrich their diets.
It is also known that these herbivores love vegetables. Leafy greens like lettuce or vegetables like zucchini, so long as they are washed and softly blanched.
Just remember not to overfeed or leave food in the tank for too long. This could damage your water quality and lead to health problems for your inhabitants.
As discussed above, making sure your snails have healthy, undamaged shells is very important. Keeping the pH high and giving them calcium supplements can help avoid this problem.
One of the most common parasites is Angiostrongylus cantonensis or Rat Lungworm. You probably guessed that the adult form of this parasite is found in rodents, but the larvae will use snails as a temporary host until growing into adulthood.
This is something seen for the most part in the wild as these two species will likely never interact in the aquarium trade, meaning you don’t have to worry about this too much.
Grub Worms have been observed in aquariums where wild-caught snails were used. They appear as small, white cysts on the foot of the snail. When ruptured, flukes (parasites) are released into the water column. This is a problem for fish as the flukes will encyst their flesh and can only be removed physically. Grub Worms will stay inside the host fish until the host dies.
The good thing about this is that Grub Worms cannot reproduce inside your tank.
Most problems however stem from their shells. This is one of the most important things to look at to ensure health.
It is possible to patch the shells of snails; however, this process is one that must be done by hand and very risky. Most procedures require you to take the snail out of the tank and apply some form of fish safe epoxy.
Mystery Snails are gonochoristic which means a male and female must be present for reproduction.
If you are looking to have more snails without going out and buying them, the breeding process is easy.
The male and female will mate without any help or altered tank conditions.
Once the female is ready to lay eggs, she will lay her eggs above or at the water surface. They will leave their eggs in a cocoon which makes them easy to spot and remove if you do not want babies.
The eggs will be yellow, pink, or white in color.
A single clutch of eggs could produce 20-40 healthy adults, but they may lay multiple clutches around the tank, leading to many more.
A female could lay eggs weekly for nearly five months.
Many aquarists choose to move them to their own tank once they’re hatched to accommodate the dramatic increase in numbers and to prevent them from being eaten as they grow.
Trying to hatch too many eggs may overload your tank and impact the nitrogen cycle, so only keep what you can manage. Most eggs tend to be disposed of or hatched and promptly sold online or to friends/family.
If they lay their eggs above the water the air surrounding the cocoon must be moist enough and eggs should hatch within a month.
Baby snails will then fall to the bottom of the tank and begin their lives, eating the same food as their parents.
If you want your snails to breed, try lowering the water level a few inches to make room for them to lay eggs. Also make sure there is plenty of food as they tend to spawn only when there is enough food to feed their next generation.
Are Mystery Snails Suitable for your Aquarium?
When thinking about mystery snails for your tank, think about what you have in your aquarium. If your tank is full of vegetation and has a community of peaceful fish and invertebrates, then these snails are for you.
This species of snail is easy to keep as you don’t need to do much to keep them alive. They have few unique needs and do not necessarily need to be fed separately.
One of their best features is providing you a helping hand when cleaning the tank of plant particulates and algae from the glass. This makes your manual cleaning easier and less frequent.
All this means that these snails are perfect for both beginners and experts alike. It truly is hard for you to go wrong with them. This is why they have become one of the most popular freshwater snails for aquarium use. A quick look around any fish store will show just how common they are.
Have you ever kept mystery snails in your aquariums at home, or have you seen them in your local fish stores? We’d love hearing from you so let us know in the comments section below.