How to Remove Snails from a Shrimp Tank

How to Remove Snails from a Shrimp Tank

by Michael

Today I am going to talk about how to remove snails from a shrimp tank. If you have been reading my articles before (for example, “Benefits of Snails for a Shrimp Aquarium” or “Malaysian Trumpet Snails – Pros and Cons for Shrimp Tank”) you would know that I love snails. They are the best friends for our shrimp and an excellent addition to the clean-up crew. I always advise to have them in a shrimp tank.

Nonetheless, even something good (like snails) can become bad if it is excessive. In addition, there are also people who simply prefer to have no snails at all. Therefore, in this article, I will describe every way to control or get rid of them.

Right from the beginning, I can tell that there are many ways of dealing with snail infestation in our aquariums. However, the most effective and safe ones are food control, maintenance and manual removal.

Of course, I understand that when we have a problem like this, we want to have a quick and simple solution. Unfortunately, it is very hard to do so in a shrimp tank. Believe me, I spent tons of time looking for those methods. I searched everywhere (I found even extreme and dangerous ones like electrocution of snails in the tank).

Without ado let me tell you what I know.

Where Do Snails Come From?

Actually, it is very easy to accidentally introduce snails into your tank. Often snail will hitchhike on aquatic plants and make themselves at home in your tank. In most cases, they are just too small to see and a few weeks later, you start to see snails populating the tank.

Sometimes snails can come with new fish or shrimp. To be precise, in the bag from a seller. You put the fish or shrimp in the tank and the snails come with it. A few weeks later, you have snails in your tank.

Most pest snails are hermaphroditic (for example, Pond snails (read my guide about them)). It means that they have both male and female reproductive organs. It also means that one snail can be enough to start an infestation.

Note: Never add water from the bag into the tank. Do acclamation the right way. You can read my article about it here.

1. Quarantine

So how can you get rid of those snails before they even get into your tank? The best way to keep snails out of your tank is to head off the problem before it takes hold. Therefore, always quarantine everything! I seriously mean it.

Fish, invertebrates (shrimp, crayfish, crabs even other snails), plants, driftwood, etc. – anything coming from another source that may have been in contact with any biological material. If you practice an extended quarantine you will notice that there are snails and can deal with them.

Quarantine steps for plants, rocks, driftwood, decorations in your tank.

1. Visually inspect your plants, rocks, driftwood, etc. Check everything for snail eggs (usually small glassy bumps).

2. Rocks and driftwood.
Clean and boil all rocks and driftwood before adding to the tank. To learn more read my article “Driftwood in Shrimp Tank”.

3. Plants:

Prime and Jungle clear water– Method #1: Give all live plants a Potassium Permanganate dip (for example, Jungle clear water – link to check the price on Amazon) for about 10 – 15 minutes. Use a separate bowl for that. Add in several drops until it is a dark purple color. Stir the water and submerge the plant. Next, treat the plant with Prime water conditioner (link to check the price on Amazon) into the newly filled bucket for 1-3 minutes. Then rinse the plant several times with normal tap water.

Warning: DO NOT treat your plants in the tank! Only outside! Potassium Permanganate is a very strong oxidizer and can kill your bio-filter (and any organic in the tank). Wear protective gloves. Potassium Permanganate can burn your skin.

Bleach– Method #2: Use a regular Bleach – link to check the price on Amazon. You need bleach with as few additives as possible at a ratio of 19 cups water to 1 cup bleach. For concentrated bleach use ¾ of a cup. Put the plants into the bleach solution and leave them there for 2 minutes. Make sure the whole plant is in the water. Then treat the plants with Prime water conditioner into the newly filled bucket for 1-3 minutes. Next, rinse the plants several times with normal tap water.

Warning: Use gloves when handling plants with the solution.

2. The Main Cause of Snail Overpopulation

I would like to start off by saying that one of the most important things to understand about the common pests snails (or any snails) is that they often grow to the bio-load in our tanks.

It means that the number of snails is going to be dependent upon the food that they can find. Therefore, the main cause of snail overpopulation is overfeeding.

Any snails multiply to the amount of food and organics in the tank. For example, algae, debris, detritus, dead or dying plants, uneaten shrimp or fish food, fish poop, dead fish or shrimp, etc. Everything will affect the bio-load in your tank. Keep in mind that snails are great scavengers and will clean up your tank with pleasure. When they have a lot of food, snails tend to reproduce prolifically.

I cannot even stress enough how important it is to understand this simple rule when we are talking about how to control snail populations and how to get rid of them.

Therefore, if you want to reduce the snail population, you have to control how much you are feeding. Control the bio-load in our tanks by cutting down feeding in both amount and frequency. When your shrimp and/or fish will eat everything, and nothing will be left for the snails, their population will decrease.

Although this is not a fast way. Eventually, the numbers will shrink to reflect how much food you actually have to support all the adults (the young snails will die out first).

Note: Do not forget to remove dead snails or you will have an ammonia spike.

Important: If you do not stop overfeeding and remove snails by using other methods, the excess of food can rot and produce ammonia in the tank, which can be way worse than a few snails.

3. General Maintenance

General maintenance is one of the best ways to get rid of snails. Remember that snails are just an indicator of the balance in your tank. Therefore, fighting them directly is not the way to win this war.

  • Step number one is to reduce the amount of food that is in your tank.
  • Next, do a nice deep clean in your tank. Gravel vacuum if necessary, just be careful not to disrupt the dirt layer below.
  • Control the amount of algae in your tank. Scrape it down.
  • Make sure you have enough light and enough nutrients for your plants to grow.
  • Remove any dead and dying plant matter.
  • Clean up your plans and make sure they look healthy. Do some fertilizer to allow your plants to grow healthier so you are not losing leaves.
  • Make sure there is not a lot of excess food in the gravel for your snails to eat. Use feeding dishes (here is my article about it).

Do it and you will certainly reduce the snail population. Proper maintenance is essential if you want to remove the snails.

Note: Many plant fertilizers contain copper. I have a list of shrimp safe fertilizers, which you can find in my article “How Copper Affects Dwarf Shrimp”.

4. Physical Removal

Let’s say you do not overfeed anymore, do regular maintenance and want to speed up the process.

Dennerle Snail CatcherRemove the snails yourself or use snail traps. Of course, it will take a little while for you but it will be the safest way to deal with snails.

  1. Take them out with snail catcher. Snail Catcher (link to check the price on Amazon).
  2. Crush snails with your finger and your shrimp will eat them. Shrimp like protein and calcium. They are crucial to their molting process.

Note: Do not do this frequently. One or two days a week will be enough. Do not crush too many snails at once (start from 1-2 snails). If you see that shrimp cannot eat them all in 1 day – this is overfeeding.

  1. You can drop a little piece of blanched cucumber, zucchini, green beans, carrot, cabbage, lettuce in the bottom of your tank (read my article “How to Blanch Сucumbers and Zucchini for Shrimp, Snails and Fish the Right Way”). Snails will immediately flock to it. Within a couple of hours, you will get a lot of snails on that food. In the morning, you simply go to your aquarium, take out the food and discard the snails on it. Rinse and repeat until all the snails are gone.
    Tip: If the snails do not come to eat blanched vegetables, it means that there is still a lot of other food in the tank.
    Tip #2: According to my experience, banana skin (the browner, the better) also attracts snails very well. Do not leave it for too long, do not foul your water more than it is necessary.
    Note: The downside of this method is that you cannot trap all the snails, which came. Once they are full they will crawl away.

Snail Traps

Another option is to set DIY snail traps or commercially available snail traps. You can easily remove them in the morning and watch it be covered in snails.

Commercially available snail trapsSnail traps you can find on the market:

Sera snail collect (link to check the price on Amazon)
ISTA Snail Trap (link to check the price on Amazon)

DIY Snail Trap

1. Take 2 plastic water bottles.
2. Cut off the top of the water bottles.
3. Cut off the bottom on one of the bottles.
4. Put the top end of the bottles in the bottom half upside down.
5. Drill a hole in the cap for the snails to get in. Depending on what kind of snails you are trying to get.
Note: Do not simply take the cap off. The smaller the hole is the harder it will be for the snails to actually find a way out of the trap.

6. Poke small holes into the top of the water bottles. It will release more smell.
Note: Do not poke the holes into the base of the trap. You need snails to go into the trap rather than trying to stick on the side of the trap.

7. Put fish (shrimp) food or blanched vegetable in the bottle bottom.
8. Take your rubber band put it across both ends.
9. Put the snail trap into the tank and release air out of it.
Note: Add some small stones to weight the trap down.

10. Leave it in the tank overnight.
11. Snails will go in but cannot get out.
12. In the morning, remove the snails and repeat the process.

If you continually do this every single day, you are going to have fewer and fewer snails.

Note: Snail traps are very good at catching snails but they are also very good at catching shrimp. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to avoid it in a shrimp tank setup and it can become a problem. In a small space (crowded with snails and shrimp) the oxygen can be depleted very fast. This is another reason why we poke the holes (step #6). We need to increase oxygen circulation.

5. Biological Removal

This can be the next way of protecting your shrimp tanks if you do not want to bother yourself with manual removal.  

Clea Helena (Assassin snails)

Assassin snail (Clea Helena) huntingClea Helena is known among aquarium enthusiasts as the “Assassin snail”, and is usually kept to prey on other snail species that are considered pests in home aquaria. The names “Assassin snail” and “Snail-eating snail” both refer to this snail’s predatory nature and tendency to consume all sorts of snails.

Their voracious and non-selective appetite for living snails, as well as carrion, will work really well for you. In addition, they are actually quite a good cleanup crew as well.

You can learn more about these snails in my “Guide: Assassin Snails in Shrimp Tanks. Do Assassin Snails Eat Shrimp?”.

Snail Eating Fish, Crayfish, Crabs, Turtles

Warning: Of course, there are some fish and even shrimp species (also crayfish, crabs, turtles) that will eat snails. Unfortunately, we CANNOT put them in shrimp tanks. Unless we want to unleash an Armageddon upon the shrimp as well.

However, if you have non-shrimp tanks and it suits your setup, I will also list some of them here. Remember, that you will have to do your own research because it is an equation with too many unknowns.

Fish species that will eat snails.

Pea puffer eat snails

  • Pea puffers love snails. Although they look so cute, in reality, they are cunning and voracious little predators. Pea puffers are merciless and dedicated hunters, with an endless appetite for your snails, shrimp, crayfish or crab.
  • Cichlids (like Julidochromis, Oscar, Red Devils) prefers live food such as snails, bloodworms, and shrimp. They will eat snails and control their populations in no time.
  • Loaches (like Clown loaches, Zebra Botia, Macracantha Botia loaches) will go straight after the snails. Yoyo (or Pakistani) loach is a hit or miss. In some cases, they will erase all your snails, while in others they will not pay any attention to them.

There are lots of other types of fish that will eat snails. I simply do not like going that route because you have to introduce a new fish to your aquarium that you may not want in there.

Macrobrachium Shrimp

Macrobrachium ShrimpMany Macrobrachium shrimp species are eating snails too. Some species of Macrobrachium shrimp (for example, Macrobrachium Lanchesteri) can be so aggressive that it is not advisable to keep them even with small (slow) fish. Obviously, they are not compatible with dwarf shrimp as well.

Note: I have not kept them myself but some aquarists say that they can devour even snail eggs.
Note #2: Sometimes they are also called Ghost shrimp. They are very similar to the real Ghost shrimp (Palaemonetes paludosus), when they are young it can be really hard to tell them apart. You can read more about it in my article “Ghost shrimp – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet and Breeding”.

Crayfish

Crayfish (for example, Marbled Crayfish) will snacks on snails with great pleasure. In nature, crayfish are opportunistic feeders, meaning that they will eat just about anything that they can catch – fish, shrimp, snails.

Note: Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to keep crayfish in planted tanks. Crayfish will eat and uproot the plants. Read my guide about Marbled Crayfish here.

6. Chemical Removal

The first thing I should mention is that I really do NOT recommend using it against snails. The point is that many medications are copper-based and can damage the plants and kill your shrimp colony as well. If you read the backs of those bottles on those medications, it will tell you to take out all of your invertebrates before treating the tank. So copper-based medications really should be used sparingly for the reasons that the medication is indicated.

Read my article “How Copper Affects Dwarf Shrimp”.

In addition, using medication against burrowing snails (for example, Malaysian trumpet snails) can be very dangerous for the tank eco-system. They will bury themselves and die there. As a result, over the course of like one or two weeks, they will basically rot in the substrate with the massive amount of ammonia that comes with it.  

A list of Medications that Can Kill Snails

No-Planaria

No_planariaAccording to the manufacturer, the main ingredient is a Betel nut palm extract. It is safe for shrimps and plants but dangerous for the snails.

Note: The downside of No-Planaria is that snails will die very slowly. If the dosage is not high enough, you never know if it is going to work or not at all. To know the shrimp safe dosage you can read my article “Planaria and Shrimps. How to remove them”.

Fenbendazole (Panacur and Canine Dewormer)

Fenbendazole (Panacur and Canine Dewormer)Shrimp keepers usually use Panacur and Dog Dewormer (link to check the price on Amazon) to treat Hydra and Planaria. However, prolonged use will kill most snails. Both medicines contain Fenbendazole.

Note: You can also read more about them in my article about Planaria (link above).

Hydrogen Peroxide

shrimp tank Hydrogen PeroxideIf you want more drastic measures, you can use 3% Hydrogen peroxide to kill the snails. However, be very careful! To know the safe shrimp dosage you can read my article “Hydra in a Shrimp Tank. Treatment”.

  1. Turn off your filter.
  2. You will have to remove all fish and shrimp.
  3. Dose the tank with 1 tbsp per gallon, let sit for an hour.
  4. Then do 30-50% (or more) water change.
  5. Turn your filter back on.
  6. Add back in your most hardy fish or shrimp to check the reaction.
  7. Add the rest.

Warning: Shrimp do not like big water changes. You can read it in my article “Dwarf shrimp and Molting problems. The White Ring of Death”.

Hydrogen peroxide (link to check the price on Amazon).

Esha Gastropex

esha-gastropex aquatic snail treatmentHarmless to shrimp but wipes out all snails. Just remember to pick out the dead ones or they will cause a spike of ammonia.

  • Gastropex effectively combats aquatic snails and Hydra in your aquarium.
  • Safe to use with fish and plants.
  • Clears cloudy water (bacterial Blooms).

According to Esha, I quote their reply, “eSHa Gastropex is shrimp safe but be careful with to many dead snails. Shrimp eat a lot of dead waste and the snails contain eSHa Gastropex. If the shrimps then eat it, it is not so good for them. So try to remove as much snails before, during and after treatment and if you see any changes in behavior stop treatment and do a large water change. Please do not use any water conditioners in your tank, if you did, do a large water change before treatment. Water conditioners can influence the product. Yes, eSHa Gastropex contains Copper”.

7. Electricity vs Snails

On the Internet, I found several cases where people accidentally electrocuted their snails.  For example, in one case, wires from a cooler fell into the water (power supply 12 volt and 1.5 amperes) for all night. As a result, it killed all Bladder, Pond snails (read my guide about them) and even Assassin snails in the tank. Actually, once it also happened during official research when the heater broke and killed most snails in the tank.

Personally, I do not support this drastic method. There is a chance that it can kill everything in your aquarium. It can be even dangerous to yourself. I will repeat that I do not recommend it in any way! 

Conclusion.

Let’s summarize what we can do to get rid (avoid or reduce) snail infestation.

  1. Quarantine everything that you are going to put in your tank. Preventing is better than cleaning up.
  2. Stop overfeeding. Overfeeding is the most common trigger for snail infestation. If you stop overfeeding, they will naturally die off.
  3. Do regular maintenance. Remove the excess of detritus and algae.
  4. Manually remove snails if the above methods do not work fast enough for you.
  5. Introduce livestock to control the snails. For example, Assassin snails, certain types of fish, etc.
  6. Medications should be your last resort to deal with snails.

If you do all of those things, you will be able to remove snail or reduce them to a point where they will not bother you anymore.

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