Ramshorn Snails are a group of small freshwater snails found around the world. They are a regular sight in aquarium stores and are alternatively loved and reviled by fishkeepers.
The majority of Ramshorn Snail species are quite small, at around ½ to 1 inch being normal for mature specimens.
Even the largest of the family, the Giant or Great Ramshorn Snail (Planorbarius corneus), grows only to 1 ½ inches in diameter. Apple and Mystery Snails are better choices if you’re looking for a large snail.
Ramshorn Snails are beautiful and interesting in their own right, and come in several colors, including brown, red, spotted, and a delicate sky blue. Red Ramshorn are particularly interesting because you’re actually seeing a pigment-less variety.
Like humans, Ramshorn Snails have red, hemoglobin-enriched blood, which shows through the skin and shell in the Red variety!
Ramshorn Snails are air breathing Snails and use a specialized lung-like organ to hold air underneath their shells. In younger snails, you can easily see the air bubble through their thinner shells.
They are incredibly easy to feed; the majority of people who own them simply feed them nothing and allow them to scrounge along for detritus.
However, they happily accept nearly anything organic and thrive in a wide range of water conditions!
- Scientific Name: Planorbidae family
- Home Range: Worldwide
- Size: Up to 1 inch in diameter
- pH: 7-8
- Temperature: 65-80F
- Difficulty: Very Easy
This guide will be a little unusual because I’m hoping to speak to both those who want to keep them and those looking to control them.
Pros and Cons of Ramshorn Snails
Here are a few pros and cons of Ramshorn Snail ownership:
Benefits of Having Ramshorn Snails
As detritivores, Ramshorn Snails eat things that most tank inhabitants avoid. Dead and decaying organic matter as well as detritus is what they crave.
Dead plant leaves, fish waste, fallen flakes and pellets, and soft algae will all be sniffed out and consumed.
If you happen to find a fish corpse in the morning, there’s a good chance your Ramshorn Snails have already beaten you to it. In short, they are an excellent cleanup crew. And the more you have, the faster they lock up organic debris into their bodies.
Ramshorn Snails generally leave live plants alone in favor of dead leaves and rotting tips. Soft plants like Elodea may be tempting but they are quite plant safe.
They are also interesting in their own right. There are relatively few invertebrate choices for freshwater hobbyists compared to saltwater aquarists. Snails can add a bit of extra interest for a fish-only ecosystem.
Disadvantages of Having Ramshorn Snails
The main disadvantage to owning Ramshorn Snails is that it is incredibly difficult to control their population.
With all of the ample food available in the form of dead leaves, fish waste, and leftover flakes, they have plenty of material to make babies with. And they truly breed like rabbits.
Ramshorn Snails can even reproduce asexually – your single Snail will eventually lay a cluster of eggs that will become a few dozen new additions.
They have a tendency to “infest” an aquarium because you start to see them everywhere, sliding along the glass, gravel, and filter equipment.
Many people also end up with Ramshorn Snails without intending to. Eggs and live Snails often come with live plants.
Plants with bunches of fine leaves like Elodea and Hornwort are especially prone to spreading Snails because it’s hard to spot them among the plant masses.
Ramshorn Snails aren’t aggressive or predatory. They represent purely an aesthetic problem – your entire tank can eventually be overrun with dozens of them.
They also produce feces of their own – and no, they won’t consume their own waste.
Removing them by hand is the safest and easiest way. However, it only takes a single missed baby snail or egg mass to restart the entire cycle again. I’ll be discussing the best Ramshorn Snail control methods below as well!
Caring for Ramshorn Snails
Caring for Ramshorn Snails is really too easy. If they are dying on you, either your water conditions are toxic to fish as well, you have acidic water and a lack of minerals that prevents their shells from remaining stable, or there are trace agents toxic to snails such as copper.
With a worldwide distribution, it’s no surprise that Ramshorn Snails tolerate a wide range of water conditions. They will thrive in ponds, room temperature bowls and tanks, and tropical conditions alike. Temperatures can range from 65-80F, with tolerance both higher and lower than this ideal range.
They do have a preference for neutral to alkaline water, as acidic conditions leach away at their shells. Water hardness ideally is elevated as well. Ammonia and nitrites should be kept in control as with other freshwater organisms. However, Ramshorn Snails are quite hardy and readily breed even in poorly maintained aquariums.
The only major water quality concerns you’ll have are noxious agents particularly toxic to invertebrates, like copper. Since there are few studies on what the effects of each individual fish medication have on each species of invertebrate, you are better off treating sick fish in a quarantine tank if you want to keep your Snails alive.
Tank Mates for Ramshorn Snails
Ramshorn Snails are entirely unaggressive and won’t disturb even the tiniest of fish fry. This makes them great clean-up agents in fry aquariums where the young tend to waste a lot of available food.
Your main concern should be choosing tank mates that won’t eat your snails. Their trailing antennae, soft bodies, and lack of a defensive operculum means they are highly vulnerable to attack.
The operculum is a sort of trap door that many snails use to seal their shells when they retreat. Since Ramshorn Snails don’t have an operculum, predatory fish and invertebrates can simply peck at their muscular yet soft foot or suck them right out of their shells!
Good Tank Mates for Ramshorn Snails:
- Small Shrimp
Fish to Avoid Keeping with Ramshorn Snails:
- Cyprinids (Goldfish and Barbs)
If you are looking for biological snail control, any of these fish are a good choice. Small Cichlids will peck them to death and medium to large Cichlids will simply swallow them like popcorn.
Most of these fish won’t eliminate Ramshorn Snails entirely save Loaches and Pufferfish, as both are specialist invertebrate predators in nature.
Ramshorn Snails are actually a great occasional addition for these fish to give them a source of Live Food they’ll enjoy! Do note that aquatic Snails are intermediate hosts for several species of liver fluke and will pass them along to predators if eaten.
A month-long quarantine period helps clear their fluke infections and allows you to establish a parasite-free population of snails for your predatory fish.
Feeding Ramshorn Snails
Ramshorn Snails are some of the easiest creatures to feed as well. They eat absolutely anything nonliving and organic. Preferably beginning to decay. Dead fish, fish waste, dead leaves, and fallen flakes and pellets will be covered with Snails in no time. Algae and microbial biofilms will also be grazed upon.
Their sense of smell is very impressive; when a large amount of food reaches the bottom, you’ll see them start to wave their antennae back and forth and move quite a bit faster.
Ramshorn Snails can also be offered blanched vegetables – cauliflower is an excellent addition as the extra calcium helps keep their shells strong and healthy. Cucumbers, squash, and other relatively soft plants are also great choices.
If you have a large population of Ramshorn Snails, you can offer blanched vegetables on a piece of string and withdraw the picked clean rinds hours afterwards.
Controlling Ramshorn Snails
Maybe you are an aquarist who finds Ramshorn Snails undesirable. Or insead, you simply want to keep their numbers under control.
Here are some methods of Ramshorn Snail control you should consider, listed in increasing effectiveness.
As small freshwater Snails with no operculum they are easy prey for quite a few fish species.
Loaches and Spiny Eels have a proboscis designed specifically for rooting out soft invertebrates from hard to reach places.
Pufferfish use their toothy beaks to crunch their shells to pieces to extract the meat. And large Cyprinids like Goldfish and Barbs can simply swallow them and use their pharyngeal (throat) teeth to chew them up.
How well they control the Ramshorn Snail population depends on how many Snail-eating fish, how many Snails, and how well fed both your fish and Snails are.
The more you feed your Loach or Puffer the few Snails they will eat. A single small Freshwater Puffer Fish will keep your Ramshorn Snails in check and may eliminate them entirely once mature.
This technique is exactly what it sounds like: rolling up your sleeves and picking out Ramshorn Snails by sight. How well this works depends on how many hiding places you have for Snails.
Lifting rocks, driftwood, and disturbing plants bi-weekly is quite a hassle yet you’re guaranteed to miss small snails and egg clusters if you don’t.
Given how easy they are to feed, Ramshorn Snails can be baited with relative ease. Dial back your fish feedings to once a day for a solid week. And ensure you only feed enough that your fish consume all available food.
Also clip and remove dead and decaying plants, scrub the glass of algae and other biofilms, and do a gravel siphoning and water change a few days in. A spotless aquarium means the Ramshorn Snails will be starving by the end of the week!
After 5 days to a week, drop in a section of blanched vegetable matter an hour after the aquarium lights have gone off. Wait another hour and then turn the lights on. Your section of vegetable food will be covered in hungry snails. You can lift them out, brush them into a container, and then bait for a second hour for more Snails.
Rinse and repeat until you run out of Snails. Note that this doesn’t do anything for remaining egg clusters.
Overfeeding in general is a prime cause for Ramshorn Snail infestations. Not only are they eating leftover fish food but also consuming the waste your fish leave afterward.
Being more careful with feeding to avoid leftovers and diligently doing weekly water changes to siphon up the debris they love will go a long way in controlling Ramshorn Snail populations.
In Southeast Asia and Indonesia, a specialized gastropod known as the Assassin Snail (Clea helena) prowls (slowly) through the warm waters. Assassin Snails are specialist predators of other small to medium sized Snails. And the operculum-less Ramshorn Snails are a perfect meal for them.
They lay buried in the sand until they smell a nearby Snail and then pursue them, climb onto their shell, and insert a retractable proboscis full of razor sharp teeth. Assassin Snails will feed in groups once they smell the blood of an attack and can eliminate a Ramshorn Snail infestation.
Assassin Snails are carnivorous and won’t eat algae or plant matter. If all of the Snails are gone, they can be fed frozen foods and protein-rich flakes. They also don’t breed nearly as prolifically as Ramshorn Snails, making them interesting, easier to control additions to your aquarium.
Chemical agents are the best way to deal with a problem Ramshorn Snail population.
Seachem Cupramine is a copper based fish medication used as a broad spectrum agent for parasitic infections like Ich and Oodinium. When used as directed it will also kill off your Ramshorn Snail infection.
Remember that all invertebrates are sensitive to copper, however. Desirable Snails like Apple Snails and Shrimp will also succumb if you use this agent! Many organic chemicals like Malachite Green (for fungus) and Methylene Blue (for fungus and parasites) used to diseases will also work on Ramshorn Snails when dosing the entire tank.
In the following days after you dose a tank with chemicals to treat Ramshorn Snails, you need to be diligently monitoring water quality. As you probably know, shellfish of all kinds rot quickly (think seafood).
A heavy infestation of Snails suddenly dying and rotting is guaranteed to spike your ammonia and nitrites and can inadvertently weaken and kill your fish.
There can easily be dozens of dead Snails in the gravel, under rocks, and in other places you won’t be able to find. This means frequent testing and water changes as needed until your water conditions stabilize.
Breeding Ramshorn Snails
Breeding Ramshorn Snails is the easiest task imaginable. So long as you have a single Snail, water, and food, you are guaranteed to have more Snails.
Ramshorn Snails are both hermaphrodites and sexual reproducers. This means they can either produce eggs all on their own or reproduce with a partner.
As hermaphrodites they can spread incredibly quickly into new ecosystems (such as your aquarium), however the offspring are genetic clones with none of the new advantages sexual reproduction can offer.
Either way they breed, you may eventually see small masses of white embryos clustered together in a tough gelatinous material that protects the baby snails and repels predators.
Ramshorn Snail eggs take anywhere from 10 to 40 days to develop, depending on the species and water temperature.
Once they hatch, the young Snails drop to the substrate as quickly as possible and attempt to bury themselves. At night, they emerge to feed on detritus, much like adults.
Over the course of months they develop and begin the cycle anew!