Snails are handy for any marine aquarium because they eat leftover food and detritus. But if you’re looking for something beyond the same old Turbo Snails, have you considered a speedy, carnivorous Nassarius Snail? While they are still slow, being snails, and they prefer their meat dead, these snails offer a different pace for your sand bed and are well worth getting to know!
Getting to Know the Nassarius Snail
Unlike many of the more familiar aquarium snails, Nassarius Snails are scavengers and enjoy animal protein. Leftover flakes, fresh frozen food, a dead fish…They will converge on anything that smells good and consume it.
They are often found in the intertidal zone where dead animals tend to wash up and get stranded. The snails remain buried in the sand until the smell of rotting flesh hits them.
First time keepers of Nassarius Snails are often surprised to find out just how fast (for a snail) these guys are when it’s time to eat! They get the name “Zombie Snail” because of the way all of them practically burst forth from the sand all at once and start gliding towards the food they smell.
They will also wave their siphons back and forth, trying to find the scent of the meal in the current to orient themselves. Once there, they quickly swarm the food and start chowing down! Interestingly, this siphon actually serves two purposes at once. Nassarius Snails not only use it for smell but they also use it like a snorkel. When not moving, the siphon ensures that the snail has a constant source of oxygenated water from underneath the sand.
Nassarius Snails also help keep the substrate clean! They not only eat any leftover food that they find while burrowing but they help turn it over. They introduce fresh water deep within your sand bed and keep it from compacting!
And given how inexpensive they are, buying several is the best way to ensure no leftover food is left to decay into ammonia! Interested in picking up a few Zombie Snails?
- Common Names: Nassarius Snail, Zombie Snail, Sand Sifting Snail
- Scientific Name: Nassarius sp.; generally N. distortus and N. vibex
- Origin: Worldwide
- Size: ½ to 1 inch
- Aquarium Size: Any
- Temperament: Peaceful
- Ease of Care: Very Easy
Nassarius Snail Care
Nassarius Snails are hardy scavengers and will thrive so long as you keep them well fed and provide them with a deep sand bed to hide in! They are next to impossible to breed but are inexpensive to buy and interesting to watch.
For invertebrates, Nassarius Snails are nearly bulletproof. If your Nassarius are dying, then everything else has probably already died. They can tolerate a wide range of water conditions, but they prefer a temperature range of 70-80℉. Nassarius Snails also enjoy a salinity range of 1.020-1.025, with 1.023-1.025 being ideal for them. The pH range should fall between 7.9 and 8.4.
Being invertebrates, they are a little more sensitive to nitrogenous wastes like nitrate than fish are. But they are also scavengers and at home with elevated waste levels. You should always strive to keep your nitrate levels below 5 ppm for optimal health. That said, you won’t see any signs of stress at up to 20 ppm for Nassarius Snails.
Nassarius Snails also need elevated background levels of calcium, strontium, and carbonate. All shell and reef building organisms require these minerals to build up the hard portions of their bodies. These elements also help buffer the pH towards alkalinity, preventing acidity from wearing away at their shells.
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Fortunately, any standard marine salt blend has enough of these elements to keep them healthy. Combined with an aragonite sand substrate, your Nassarius Snails should maintain healthy shell thickness!
What they can’t tolerate are medicines that target parasites. These medications are typically copper-based, which all invertebrates are highly sensitive to. Since “parasites” covers many different kinds of invertebrates, most of these medications are designed to kill the majority of them.
Never treat the entire tank with medication when keeping marine invertebrates. Instead, you should always move sick animals to a quarantine tank if you’re keeping Nassarius Snails unless the medication is proven to be invertebrate-safe or targets only one kind, like worms.. And even then, I would be very careful about dosing.
Nassarius Snails and Your Substrate
Nassarius Snails are a vital part of your Saltwater Clean Up Crew because they spend nearly all of their time submerged under the sand. At first, you might think “why would I ever buy an animal I won’t be able to see most of the time? What a waste of money!”
As it turns out, it’s these hidden animals that do a lot of the heavy lifting behind the scenes. Hermit crabs, Nassarius Snails, Brittle Starfish, and other less showy critters consume the detritus and mulm that accumulates from leftover food, animal feces, and other sources of organic matter.
They also eat the leftover food that often gets missed by your fish, preventing it from decaying into ammonia and other waste byproducts. Coupled with a mature biological filtration system, even if you accidentally overfeed you won’t see a significant rise in nitrogenous waste products!
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Nassarius Snails also perform the vital task of turning over the sand continually. Deep sand beds (3 inches or more) are prone to going anaerobic if there aren’t living organisms to prevent compaction and allow oxygen-rich water to flow into it.
Purchasing live sand is one way to keep your substrate actively aerobic (oxygen-loving) as it’s already enriched with live bacteria and small animals that help keep it active. And Nassarius Snails act like mini-bulldozers, continually mixing in fresh water and consuming hidden pockets of organic matter!
While many snails consume algae as well, the majority of Nassarius Snails don’t eat greens. While this makes them good matches for macroalgae-rich aquariums, you may want Nerite or Turbo Snails to help keep algae at bay, especially in a reef tank. Emerald Crabs, Tangs, Foxface Rabbitfish, and Lawnmower Blennies can also serve as algae eaters!
Another way to fit Nassarius Snails into your aquarium ecosystem is to keep them within a refugium! A refugium is similar to a protein skimmer in that it exports organic matter. However, it doesn’t rely solely on mechanical means to strain out pollutants.
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Refugiums rely on the organisms contained within it to do so; it’s more like a secondary aquarium that acts as a skimmer. Most people keep either macro algae or soft corals like Kenya Tree Coral, which help export nitrates and phosphates as well as organic matter. Nassarius Snails will find a refugium with a deep sand bed to be an extremely cozy home to live in!
Tank Mates for Nassarius Snails
Given their peaceful nature and scavenging appetite, Nassarius Snails are safe with nearly any tank mate you can think of. Damselfish, Angelfish, Butterflyfish, Basslets, Blennies, Hawkfish…The list of compatible tank mates is very long. You can also keep them with fish predators like Moray Eels, Lionfish, and Groupers, so long as they don’t have a taste for snails.
On the other hand, you should be careful not to keep them with invertebrate-hunters. Snowflake and Zebra Moray Eels, Triggerfish, Pufferfish, and Wrasses all enjoy small, bite-sized Nassarius Snails.
Most invertebrates will live peacefully alongside Nassarius Snails as well but you’ll need to be careful with crabs. Emerald Crabs and smaller Hermit Crabs are the best crabs to choose because they eat most algae and are on the small side. Larger crabs, such as the Arrow Crab, are good at plucking small snails from their shells, and should be avoided. Starfish, Shrimp, Sea Urchins, and most other invertebrates will work nicely, though!
Beware of larger Hermit Crabs as well. A few aquarists have found that some species, including the Halloween Hermit Crab and the Blue Legged Hermit Crab, will actively attack snails rather than wait for an empty shell. But most of the smaller species should live peacefully alongside a Nassarius Snail colony!
Nassarius Snails are also entirely reef-safe and are great choices as coral tank mates. They don’t harm living animals or plants, though if a flesh LPS coral were to die, you may find Nassarius Snails consuming the corpse.
Good Tank Mates for Nassarius Snails
- Most Community Fish
- Predatory Fish (non-invertebrate hunters)
- Shrimp, Starfish, Sea Urchins, LPS and SPS Corals, Soft Corals, Giant Clams, and other Invertebrates
- Hermit Crabs (with caution)
Poor Tank Mates for Nassarius Snails
- Triggerfish, Pufferfish, Wrasses, and other Snail-eating Fish
- Predatory Crabs
Feeding Nassarius Snails
Feeding Nassarius Snails is as easy as it gets because they will eat anything dead and rich in protein. They will spend a lot of time sifting through detritus at night and under the substrate during the day. You will generally only see their siphons extended from under the sand – until food hits the water, that is!
Thawed brine or mysis shrimp, flakes, pellets, pieces of fresh seafood, and other dead animal matter brings them running for their share of the bounty! Placing large pieces of food near the substrate allows you to witness their behavior and get a good count on the number of Nassarius Snails you have.
Just make sure that you don’t add too much food; you want the snails to be able to consume all of it. Otherwise that food may rot and contribute to elevated ammonia levels.
Breeding Nassarius Snails
Breeding Nassarius Snails is both easy and tremendously difficult. It’s easy because they lay eggs readily in the home aquarium. But it’s also difficult because the larvae are next to impossible to raise to adulthood.
Nassarius Snails lay their eggs on any hard surface. They do have a strong preference for the aquarium glass, so you’re likely to wake up one day to see the feathery patterns they leave behind.
These snails do have distinct sexes and they aren’t hermaphroditic. Nassarius Snails come together and sexually reproduce, though you’re unlikely to witness the act since 1.) they spend most of their time burrowing and 2.) it’s impossible to tell apart the sexes visually.
Unfortunately, even if you get eggs and they hatch, the larvae are next to impossible to raise in a home aquarium. Firstly, they are planktonic in size, which means they will get swept up into the filter or protein skimmer eventually.
They also feed on other planktonic organisms, like zooplankton and phytoplankton. But exactly which organisms they eat are currently unknown. Even scientists have trouble keeping Nassarius Snail larvae alive in ideal laboratory conditions. Therefore, it’s best to stick to wild-caught specimens from your local pet store if you need more!