Do Snails Eat Live Plants?

Do Snails Eat Live Plants?

Today I would like to talk about freshwater snails in planted tanks. The point is that, sooner or later, but everybody in our hobby asks questions like – What are these holes in the plant? Who eats my plants? What happened to my plants? Do snails eat live plants? What snail species should not be in planted tanks?

Really, how can herbivore snail not be a plant eater? This is impossible people might say and, in some cases, they will be absolutely right. Therefore, some snail species do eat live plant and they should not be placed in our tanks. However, often people are mistaken about this matter as well.

Every now and then I see different posts on forums and Facebook groups when people add supposedly plant-safe snails to their beautifully planted tanks, only to find out some strange holes, nibbled edges, and that someone had been munching on their plants.

Of course, people get upset and start writing angry messages everywhere, blaming snails and cursing all these ‘liars’ who said/wrote that these snails were plant-safe.

Snails and Live Plants. Confusion and Misunderstanding

First of all, I would like to start off by saying that people’s carelessness and the Internet are fully responsible for some of the confusion, especially when we are talking about species identity.

For example, some people could read or heard somewhere that the common Ramshorn snails do not eat plants. As a result, after some time, the only thing that they can remember is just ‘Ramshorn snails’. So, they assume that all Ramshorn snails are plant safe and tell it to their friends, etc.

However, the common Ramshorn snails (Planorbidae sp.) and Giant Colombian Ramshorn snails (Marisa cornuarietis) are two completely different species with their own feeding preferences. It will be a bad idea to add Marisa cornuarietis to any planted tanks unless you do not care about your plants at all. Because these snails will eat everything, absolutely everything.

But I Saw ‘Plant Safe’ Snails Eating My Plants!

Yes, you saw it but this is not what it seems.

Plant safe snails do not eat healthy plants. I would like to repeat it again – healthy plants. Therefore, if the snails are eating your plants, it is because the plants have deteriorated enough to allow them to do so.

Yes, I understand that it can be really hard to believe for some aquarists that their plants are not in perfect health. Frankly saying, they would rather eat you alive if you even doubt or dare to challenge their skills and competence.

Nonetheless, even though the plants may look nice and thriving, it still does not guarantee that everything is OK. This is the sad truth that we have to accept in our hobby.

Although we cannot be absolutely sure regarding plant conditions, snails do not have this problem. They know better about everything that happens in your tanks. After all, they are scavengers and can sense the slightest signs of decaying matter. They can see dying plants even before it becomes obvious.

Therefore, yea, there is a very high chance that your plants are not fine. So, step aside and let them do their job.

Why Our Plants Might Be Dying?

Although I have been in this hobby for many years I still keep learning new stuff all the time. The more a learn about aquarium plants, shrimp, fish, snails, etc. the more I understand how complex our tanks are.

To keep the plants healthy, they should be almost ideally balanced in terms of precise amounts of light, proper intensity, a set schedule, CO2, substrate, nutrients, fertilizers, and even plant compatibility. Otherwise, in all other cases, we will have different incidents here and there that can be hard to explain at first glance. However, in reality, it is all about balance.

Now, ask yourself, do you do all these things? Do you know everything about plant species you have? Well, I do not think so.

Intentionally or not, but we often keep plants under sub-optimal conditions. It always affects them. Of course, many plants are hardy enough to take abuse or improper conditions and water parameters in the home aquariums. However, everything leaves its trace.

To make it even worse, many of the plant species have very thin leaves, to begin with. As a result, it does not take much for the tissue to break down when something does not suit the plant. The problem is that these minor flaws may not affect how the plant looks but they still harm the plants anyway.

Really, the plant can look nice and wonderful, but the tissue is still softer when it should be and soft tissue is what snails like the most.

There are multiple examples when the same snails munched on plant species in one tank whereas, they did not touch the same plant species in another tank. The only difference was that these tanks had different conditions for the plants. Obviously, something was wrong in one of them.

Snail Species That Do Not Eat Live Plants

Once again I have to say that there is a lot of conflicting information about what snail species will or will not eat plants.

The main point here is that we are asking the wrong question. It is not will or will not at all – it is can or can’t they eat live plants. Are they equipped with all the necessary tools to munch on our plants? Because If they could, they would, but they can’t, so they don’t.

Actually, it perfectly correlates with the soft plant tissue. The softer it is the higher is the chance that snails will snack on it one day because they do not have to have strong jaws to do that.

Nonetheless, when we are talking about absolutely plant safe snails, there are some species that can be added to any planted tank without any fear of losing the plants.

Name Chance of eating plants Description
Nerite Snails Safe These amazing snails are totally safe to keep with live aquarium plants. They are one of the best algae eaters and will starve to death without it.
Mystery snails (Pomacea Brigesii / Pomacea Diffusa) Safe These snails do not feed on plants but do eat algae. There were cases when people lost these snails because there was nothing to eat and they still did not show any interest in any of the aquatic plants.
Malaysian Trumpet Snails (Melanoides tuberculata) Safe MTS will not eat live plants, which makes them safe for any planted aquarium.
Bladder snails (Physa acuta) Safe Bladder snails do not eat healthy living plant material. The only problem is that we are considered pest snails in the hobby.
Assassin snail (Clea Helena) Safe They will not eat any plant matter because they are carnivorous and feed on other snails.

Snail Species That Usually Do Not Eat Live Plants

Another category includes snails’ species that do not eat live plants:

  • unless they are absolutely starving.
  • this is a soft tissue plant.

In addition, it can be very easily avoided by giving them blanched vegetables.

Read my article “How to Blanch Сucumbers and Zucchini for Shrimp, Snails and Fish the Right Way”.

Name Chance of eating plants Description
Rabbit snails (Tylomelania) Safe (with caution) They are usually absolutely not interested in eating up plants. However, they seem to have some strange gastronomical interest when they are around Java ferns.
Japanese Trapdoor Snails (Viviparus sp.) Safe (with caution) Besides their beautiful appearance, they usually do not eat live healthy plants.
Black Devil Snail (Faunus ater) Safe (with caution) They can start eating plants if there is nothing left for them.
Ramshorn snails (Planorbella sp.) Safe (with caution) These snails might feed on plants when they are mostly not well-fed. They also do that when the leaves of such a plant are soft enough.

Snail Species That Eat Live Plants

Some snail species can be a real pain in the as… back if you have soft plants.

Of course, you can get lucky and they will not harm your planted tank but the risk remains. In addition, adding blanched vegetables may not solve the problems and will not be enough to distract them.

Name Chance of eating plants Description
Brotia Pagodula High chance They are not picky eaters and may eat plants as well.

 

Pond snails (Lymnaea stagnalis) High chance These snails often eat holes in the plants. Therefore, besides being pests, they are not plant-safe.
Asolene spixi snails High chance Asolene spixi species do not eat healthy plants.

The main problem of this species is that they can crossbreed with the Giant Colombian Ramshorn snails. Their hybrids will eat plants. Unfortunately, it is very hard to distinguish pure Asolene spixi species from the hybrids.

This is the reason why I included this species as a potential threat.

Snail Species That Will Eat Any Live Plants

Luckily there are not many snail species in our hobby that can destroy planted tanks.

Name Chance of eating plants Description
Giant Colombian Ramshorn snail (Marisa cornuarietis) Dangerous They are plant freaks. Colombian Ramshorn snails feed voraciously on aquatic vegetation.
Apple snails (Pomacea canaliculata) Dangerous They do not even eat algae. They only eat plants… dead or live it does not matter for them.

They are on the list of the world’s worst 100 invasive alien species (and top 40 in Europe.)

How to Prevent Snails From Eating Live Plants

  1. You have to do your research and there is no other way around it. You need to learn everything you can about the plants you have. Provide them enough light, nutrition, fertilizers, CO2, etc. They should be really strong and healthy.
  2. If you believe that you may have some soft plants that a supposedly ‘plant-safe’ snails will be able to eat, by all means, avoid them.
  3. Keep your snails well-fed. Frankly saying, it will not be fair to blame snail for eating plants. They are just trying to survive! Remember that any living organism will try to eat anything if it can, in order to survive.
Do you know that plants also contain calcium that is crucial for the snail? It prevents shells from deterioration. So, if you do not want to tempt them, you need to supplement them with some sort of calcium to help keep their shell beautiful and healthy.

I highly recommend reading my article “How to Supplement Shrimp and Snails with Calcium”.

In Conclusion

People often confuse grazing and eating. Most aquarium snails are scavengers and detrivores, they prefer dying plant matter to live plants.

So, if you see that the snail is ‘eating’ ‘healthy’ plants, in most cases, it means that the plant is either already dying (but you do not even know that) or they are eating algae, biofilm and another stuff one the leaves. In any case, they clean your tank and do what they are supposed to.

Related articles:

List of Freshwater Aquarium Snails. Pros and Cons
Advanced Guide to Planted Tank Lighting
Fish Causing Problems in Planted Tanks

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