Today we will talk about one of my most essential tools at keeping a successful shrimp tank – snails. When it comes to snails the first thing I want to get across is 99 % of snails are incredibly good for our aquariums and I really do mean that.
Snails will have a beneficial effect on maintaining biological balance in the aquarium. That is why I will give you all the reasons why you should keep them in any shrimp aquarium. Unfortunately, a lot of people simply do not understand that. Even more, these little creatures are often considered as pests in the aquarium. This is wrong and I will explain to you why.
Snails are Great for Cycling and Recycling
The snails will reduce the chances of tank recycling.
Everybody knows that without cycling your aquarium first you should not put any shrimp in it. Shrimp are too sensitive and they cannot live in unstable eco-system. So if you put them there during the cycling process it will be a guaranteed death sentence for them.
You have to make sure that your aquarium is well established before adding the shrimp. At this moment everybody decides to use the most popular way which is a fish cycling. Who cares about snails, right?
So, they add hardy fish (which are also called like starter fish or suicide fish) to the aquarium. The purpose of these fish is to produce ammonia that the bacteria feed on. During this time of cycling, there will be ammonia and nitrite spikes. These spikes are extremely dangerous even for the hardy fish. So people leave them in there for 3 to 6 weeks and get the aquarium cycled.
After that people who are new to this hobby, decide that it is time to replace fish with shrimps. They put the shrimps to the aquarium and some of their shrimp start dying. What?!?
Why cycling should be done with snails
They start panicking because they do not understand what is happening and what should be done next. They did everything by the book and it did not work. Why?
Really, why did it happen? The reason is that your aquarium does not have enough waste to keep the colony of bacteria in the filter or it could be that the bacteria colony was not large enough for the added bioload.
Generally speaking, you have the cycled aquarium, but it is new, it is not matured yet. That is why it can be very risky to add shrimps to a newly cycled aquarium. Because you can lose some more shrimp before you stabilize your eco-system completely.
What are the options? Do you have any? Yes. You do have!
The way to prevent that is to add snails to the tank. Snails are pretty dirty in nature. They produce a ton of waste. So keeping snails in a shrimp tank will be very beneficial. They will produce that excess of waste at least in the beginning stages of the tank and they will keep that colony of bacteria thriving and alive.
Snails are absolutely essential for the shrimps because like I said shrimp cannot survive a relapse or recycling stage.
What types of snails we can use for cycling or recycling stage?
OK, but what types of snails we can use for that? Can we do it with all species?
Well, when it comes to a suicidal mission (mission impossible) the best agents here are Pond snails and Bladder snails (read my guides about them). Pond snails are extremely available everywhere or you can find them in any local pond as a last resort. These snails are so Hardy! What they are doing is that they basically acting as if the fish here eating, pooping and starting the ammonia cycle. It is very simple and safe because these pond snails can tolerate extreme conditions.
Snails are the Best Cleanup Crew
I know you might have some concerns about them taking over your aquarium. In some cases they kind of do. When it happens you need to ask yourself a question. Why do you have so many snails? Why do they breed like crazy?
The main reason is that there is enough food source in the aquarium for them to breed. Snails will eat any leftover food that the shrimp are consuming and the so-called decaying organic matter as well. Most people give the shrimp too much food. It is a fact. They will just drop it in without even noticing that there is some food still left. This is how overfeeding starts and usually it ends very badly.
With snails, you will reduce the chances of that happening. Because they are going to eat that leftover food. They are going to make sure that it is not just sitting there fouling the water. When the shrimp leave something behind, snails will pick it up. They are a really good cleanup crew.
Snails will eat decaying matter so if you have shrimp or fish poops sitting there rotting or shrimp food rotting or a plant rotting, they will eat that.
Now when you are new to the tank or new to the plants you can say that the snails eat your healthy plants. This is a mistake in most cases! They will break down your plants that are dying or dead. It may seem healthy but it is not. Of course, if for some reason, there is no food in your aquarium for 1-2 weeks they will start starving. In this case, they may eat some plants while they are dying. In all other situations, you should not worry about your plants.
Info: there are some types of snails who do eat healthy plans, for example:
– Marisa cornuarietis (Large Colombian Ramshorn snail). You can my guide about this snail here.
– Pomacea canaliculata (Apple snail).
In some countries it can be illegal to sell Apple snails, they are considered to be in the top 100 of the World worst invaders and top 40 in Europe.
Algae Eating Snails
Yes, these little guys will help you will algae problem. There are many snails which can do that but the most popular are:
– Nerite Snails. (they have a huge variety of colors and patterns and an enormous appetite for algae). They can eat all types of algae found in a freshwater tank. (including such as Green Spot Algae and Green Beard Algae).
– Ramshorn Snails. Unlike most of other algae eating snails Ramshorn will not touch your plants if you have enough algae for it.
– Malaysian Trumpet Snails. They can eat all types of algae, as well. Another benefit is that they are not interested in live plants.
Snail’s Poop is Good for Shrimp
On top of being a good cleanup crew, snails also poop like all creatures. Did you know that their poop has bacteria that is good for the digestive system of the shrimp? Shrimp are scavengers. They will find that poop, get those good bacteria in the digestive tract and it is just an all-around win for everybody.
Some snails can be valuable for your shrimp by produce infusoria which shrimp will eat happily.
Unfortunately, these are Apple snails and Colombian Ramshorn snails. These snails are voracious plant eaters. They will demolish all plants in the aquarium in no time. As a result, their digested excrement will start feeding an infusoria culture.
Snails and Gas Pockets Prevention (Hydrogen Sulfide)
A little bit about hydrogen sulfide.
Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a gas in the aquarium that can present problems. This is probably most likely going to happen down your substrate where you have anaerobic conditions. Meaning that there is no available oxygen for cellular respiration.
Sulfate is present in a lot of different types of substrates even ones that are not nutrient rich. So the thicker your substrate is the more anaerobic areas you are going to have. That is where these bacteria are thriving and producing that hydrogen sulfide gas that can be dangerous.
Sulfates can enter the substrate through many different ways either they are already there as a product of just having organics down there. For example, when we use soil there are all kinds of different compounds in it. That can lead to generation of these type of bacteria that create hydrogen sulfide and thus potentially a problem.
Even if you did not have organics, shrimp waste, remains of food and etc. it can get down there and you will get sulfates that can be converted into this gas.
What is the Problem of the Shrimp Tank?
In a shrimp tank, you cannot get into the substrate and you cannot siphon the substrate very hard. Because there is a chance to suck up the shrimp or the babies. It is just not an easy thing. Also if you have the “dirt” substrate like ADA Amazonia or Fluval plant you can break it up when you press down on it.
So siphoning the substrate of the shrimp tank is not easy and most people do not do it. What ends up happening when you do not siphon? That is right! You get a gas build up in the substrate. Little gas pockets will build up of decaying food and it will produce that gas.
That gas is extremely toxic to shrimp. A lot of hobbyists have planted tanks with their shrimp. Over time they will plant a new plant or they will mess around in the substrate just a little bit and those gas pockets will get exposed. The Gas will get into the water column and eventually it can kill your shrimp.
What they do is they will actually burrow down into the substrate. They are going to constantly be turning that substrate so that it reduces the risk of a gas pocket being built up. Those snails are really good for it.
My favorite are Malaysian trumpet snails. A lot of people think Malaysian trumpet snails are pests. That is not the case. They are probably one of the most important tools at preventing the gas buildup in the substrate. If you use Malaysian trumpet sales in your tank, you will reduce the chances of that gas to build up.
Snails as a Food
Maybe the title sounds a little bit too loud. Nevertheless, some people crush snails for the shrimp to eat when they see that the number of snails is getting too big. Shrimp will go crazy for this new delicacy and will rush to feed of the snail.
Just be careful if you decide to regulate the number of snails by doing that. Do not crush too many at once because:
1. you can easily foul the tank and cause the ammonia spike.
2. you need to keep in mind that too much protein can kill your shrimp as well. The point is that shrimp can have problems with molting when they eat too much protein. Shrimp start growing too fast. As a result, they cannot shed off their shell properly. So give them some flakes, vegetables, leaves and etc.
Those are the reasons why I think that snails are absolutely crucial to any healthy shrimp tank. With that being said I do not see any drawbacks, besides how the snails look (it is a matter of preference actually), and that their population can go out of control if you leave too much food. In this case, read my article “How to Remove Snails from a Shrimp Tank”.
Do Shrimp Kill Snails?
Every once in a while we can see a strange behavior then shrimp start picking at snails. Is it a sign of aggression? Frankly saying, nobody knows for sure. We only have rumors about empty snail shells and a couple of videos and pictures showing us “the moment of crime”.
Some people say that they saw how their cherry shrimp or ghost shrimp grabbed and pulled out a still living snail. If it is so, in my opinion, we are witnessing a process of survival under extreme conditions because shrimps are starving.
We need to remember, that shrimps are scavengers; they are normally not interested in healthy animals. So the most plausible conclusions can be:
1. Algae that can grow on the snail’s shells will attract shrimp’s attention.
2. The snail is dying or already dead.
3. They eat a slime coat of the snail. Every time shrimp bothers the snail’s skin the more it produces the slime. As a result of the constant “picking and cleaning” the snail can die.
As we can see the shrimp does not have any intention to kill the snail. If it happens it is just an unfortunate concatenation of circumstances.