Mystery Snail Complete Care Guide (Blue, Black, Gold and More)

Mystery snails are one of the most popular additions to freshwater tanks. These slow moving, peaceful herbivores, let you to 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…

If you’re in a hurry, here is a quick summary table of the general information:

Category Rating
Care Level: Beginner
Temperament: Calm
Color Form: Brown, Black, Blue, Purple, Gold and White
Lifespan: One Year
Size: 2 Inches
Diet: Herbivore
Family: Ampullariidae
Minimum Tank Size: 5 Gallon
Tank Set-Up: Moderate Vegetation, Adaptable
Compatibility: Community Tanks

Overview of Mystery Snail

Mystery Snail

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.

Typical Behavior

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 builds 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 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 Snail Appearance: Blue, Black, Gold and Purple

Mystery Snail Overview

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.

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.

Ideal Habitat and Tank Conditions

Well Planted Mystery Snail Tank
Mystery snails prefer well planted tanks

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.

Tank Conditions

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.

Mystery Snail Tank Mates

Mystery Snail Tank Mates

These snails have little interaction with the fish in the tank unless they are being eaten. Yet another reason peaceful fish are a must.

Fish like Tetras, Guppies and Killifish will allow for the snails to mind their own business and eat away.

Another good tank mate for them is other species of peaceful invertebrates. Amano Shrimp, Cherry Shrimp and Ghost Shrimp all make great company for them and will not harm them at all.

If you’re looking to keep the Gastropod theme going then consider Ramshorn Snails, Ivory Snails and Nerite Snails.

When putting them in tanks it is important to think about what fish or invertebrates are going to eat them. Oscars, Cichlids, Crayfish and other aggressive fish should be avoided for this reason.

Keeping Mystery Snails Together

Two Mystery Snails

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 wellbeing of your snails. Having too many can cause several health problems from damaged shells to lack of food or growth defects.

What Do Mystery Snails Eat?

Mystery Snail 2
Mystery snails will eat all the algae off surfaces.

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 grows 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 “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 mater, 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 over feed or leave food in the tank for too long. This could damage your water quality and lead to health problems for your inhabitants.

Mystery Snail Care Guide

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 parasite 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.

Breeding Mystery Snails and Eggs

Breeding Mystery Snails

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.

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? (Summary)

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.

Robert Woods Portrait
Robert Woods is the creator of FishKeeping World, a third generation fish keeper and a graduate in animal welfare and behavior. He is also a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America and the Nature Conservancy.

44 Comments

  1. We love our snails and have 2. They are yellow inca females and are definitely one of the biggest personalities in our tank. Ours are now 1.5 and 2 inches long and approximately 1 inch across.

    • We have a white mystery snail. She has our attention. She is always performing these falls that end up gloding onto a plant and down a few steps of a house that we have in the tank. If I could post a video, which I have of her in action. She is hilarious!

  2. I got a gold mystery snail a month ago to add to my fish tank, just this morning I noticed a cacoon/sac with many eggs just above the water line. I thought it took two of them? Was it pregnant over a month? Derp…

    • Hi Sara, males are normally smaller than females, if you turn the snail upside down, males have a white sex organ (you’ll need to wait for it to peak out of the shell). Thanks, Robert

  3. I have a few of these in different colors and love them. The males are aggressive toward other males and large adults will attack other smaller ones. I have a smaller tank for the younger ones so this doesn’t happen. Planting with smaller moss in foreground and java fern, swords and penny white seem to make them very happy. Water condition is key to long life and in smaller than 10 gallon tank I suppliment with algae wafers.🐌🥰

  4. Hi, I just got a new black mystery snail but instead of an aquarium, I have a terrarium with no fish and just moss balls. What food/supplements will I need to put in the water to keep my snail healthy?

    • Hi Mary Jane, they’ll get most of their food from the plants (I’m assuming you have some other plants in your terrarium?) and the algae. You can supplement their diet with bottom pellets or flake food. Thanks, Robert

  5. I noticed a clump of something on the inside of my snails shell. Looks like eggs but not the ones I’ve seen in pictures. Any idea of what it could be? The snail is roaming around the tank just fine.

  6. I’m thinking about starting a 5 gallon tank with a betta, two ghost shrimp, and a mystery snail. Would a snail do well with a betta fish? I’d hate for him to be scared all the time. Also, how do the snails do with artificial plants? This will be a beginner tank for me. I’m not experienced with live vegetation.

    • Hello, this sounds like an ideal beginner tank. You can choose artificial plants as long as you feed your snails and shrimps algae wafers. Thanks, Robert

  7. I have a 5-gallon tank with a beta fish. I have some live plants started but they aren’t growing much yet. If I were to get a moss ball would that be enough food for a mystery snail? My tank is brand new so I doubt it would have much algae.

    • Hi Tara, moss balls are great but I would also recommend feeding them some algae wafers too. Thanks, Robert

  8. Hello. Our golden snails started of as a pair; we know have over 40 spread through 3 different tanks. The breeding pair have passed on but their offspring who are all different sizes due to their environment and tanks. You can really see how closely related to Octopus they are. (Cephalopod). Sometimes they swim/float upside down;. foot out searching for food. Water tension. Looks quite funny. Cheers Glenn.

  9. When Mystery Snails start breeding, they can put rabbits to shame! Up until recently, I had been removing the clutches as laid, freezing the eggs (I don’t want to be responsible for introducing an invasive species), and tossing them out. I’ve literally done this process at least two dozen times. Even with removing the eggs, I ended up with half a dozen hatching and growing to adulthood. I ended up identifying my males from females when I found them breeding and put the genders in separate tanks. My population dropped due to some dying of old age and a few escaping the tank. I put one of the males in the female tank, and clutches statred appearing again within days. I pulled three clutches for incubation (in a storage bowl lined with paper towels that I floated in the tank). My first hatchlings appeared today and I’m staggered by the sheer number that’s coming out of just one clutch! I’m planning on raising them in a breeding tank floating in my main tank, but I suspect that I’ll have TONS of snails that I won’t need!

  10. Hello, I was wandering if it is normal for a mystery snail to hang out above the water line? If so, how long can they safely stay there before they dry out? Thanks

    • Hi Jackie, this is normal behavoir, they are likely just grazing on things that have built up on the water line. If you’re concerned just gently move him back into the water. Thanks, Robert

  11. I really love snails. I have some in each of my tanks. The Nerites do lay those white eggs around but not too bad. If they are on the sides, I s rape them off. If in the substrate I just leave them. Is this okay? I love Mystery snails. Is it pkay to not have cats and algae eaters (fish) if I have enough of these to keep my tank clean? Of course I do clean the substrate and do water changes regularly. LOL I also have some of the little Trumpet Snails(?) that hitchiked on my Aracharis plants. They do multiply but not overly and I often find some deceased. They do a great job although I never see them burrowing into the gravel. I think these are the ones who are suppose to like to do that.

    • Hi Sheryl, as long as you don’t find you have huge algae build ups, they should be absolutely fine. Regular water changes and maintenance will also help. Thanks, Robert

  12. Hey i was wondering if this woud be overcrouding my tank/what should i do instead? I have a 55 gallon tank and was looking into buying tropical fish. I want a variety in my tank. Would it be okay to have 5 ghost shrimp, 5 cherry shrimp, 5 mystery snails, 10 guppies, and 5 platies. In this tank there are only real plants. I havent gotten any of these yet but i do have the plants so i can edit the plan.

  13. Hello, my son received a snail and a beta fish in a tank from
    His grandparents last week for his Birthday. When we first got Mr.Snail (my son named him) he was all yellow. Now within the last couple days he has a large black area on his shell. Is this normal?

    • Hi Ashley, it depends what type of snail it is. Gold Inca Mystery snails develop a black part on their shell which is totally normal. Thanks, Robert

  14. Hi Robert,
    My mystery snail flipped on its back and hasn’t moved. There also seems to be a thin, white filmy substance coming from him. What is that and is there something I should do?

    • Hi Katie, this is a normal response for a snail that feels threatened, or if the water chemistry is different to normal. Are there any factors which could have caused this? Thanks, Robert

  15. Hello, I would love some problem solving support as I am concerned about our mystery snail. We have him in a 5.5 gallon tank with a Betta and four tetras for a month. The tank seems to be cycled, I’m testing for this every other day and changing water twice a week. The snail has become very inactive and is not interested in the algae wafers I provide for him. He isn’t moving much and seems to not be able to close his foot plate (forget what it’s called) completely all the time.

    I haven’t checked the KH levels (going to buy a test tonight). Aquarium has no live plants. Would love any helpful advice. I am new to this hobby and care that I do my best to keep things healthy for our new friends. Thanks!

    • Hi Chloe, thanks for your message. Firstly, your tank is quite heavily overstocked with that many fish, I’d suggest upgrading to at least a 10 gallon tank, depending on the Tetras you are keeping. When you do a water change, do you just change around half of it or do a full change? You only need to carry out partial water changes. You’ll need to have left your tank for around 4-6 weeks before adding any fish, to ensure it is cycled properly. Many thanks, Robert

      • Hi Robert,

        Yes I realized after that the tank is heavily stocked. Beginners excitement I suppose. Thanks for the advice to upgrade. I change about 25% of the tank twice a week currently. We’ve had the tank since September 8th and as I said I’ve been monitoring water conditions.

        Do you think that the overstocking is the cause of the snail’s malaise? And that getting a bigger tank will improve the water quality enough to support it’s health?

        Thank you for your advice,
        Chloe

  16. Hi Robert,
    I have two mystery snails in a 10 gallon live planted tank (along with 6 fishes who ignore the snails). The male is constantly mating with the female. How can I assess her stress level? It seems like he won’t leave her alone, and I worry about her losing conditioning/getting sick/etc. Any recommendations? Are they social or solitary? Is the companionship worth the physical stress, or would she like the tank to herself? (I see, and remove, a few egg clutches a week).

    • Hi Tee, watch out for any signs of stress including change of shell color or deterioration in the shell. I would imagine that they are fine living together. Can you add some plants or hiding spots for the female? Many thanks, Robert

  17. I have a ton of newly hatched mystery snails. I have them in a 10 gallon tank. How much water should i have in the tank?

    • Hi Craig, just a regular water level is fine for them. The lower water level is mostly to encourage breeding. Thanks, Robert

  18. Hi!
    I just noticed literally ten minutes ago that there are tiny little bugs on top of gravel layer of my 10 gallon tank. I saw a couple on my golden mystery snail as well. Ugh! Help! I have one guppy and three harlequin rasboras with artificial plants. Are these parasites harmful?? I cannot get much of a picture since they’re tiny but the size of a needle head. Tiny!! They look almost grayish.

  19. Hi,
    I have a 3.7 gallon tank with one betta and two mystery snails. Is this a case of overcrowding? I’ve had them for the past few months(just bought a heater with the weather changing) but was thinking about a 5 gallon tank if necessary. I’ve also included a few live plants and moss ball.

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