Fighting Conch Snail – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding

Fighting conch snail (Strombus alatus)

Foto by Anne DuPont

Conch snails (Strombus sp) come in many shapes and sizes in marine tanks. They are known as Dog conch snails, Tiger sand conch snails, Spider conch snails, Fighting conch snails, Queen conch snails, etc.

However, since Fighting conch snail (Strombus alatus) is the most popular species in marine tank setups. In this guide, I will primarily talk about Fighting conch snails: how to care for them, their perfect diet, habitat and tanks mates for them, how to breed them, and much more.

In general, Fighting conch snails are peaceful, relatively cheap, and very easy to care for. They are an excellent addition to your marine tank. Keep reading for everything you need to know about them!

Quick Notes about Fighting Conch Snail

Name Fighting Conch snails
Other Names
Conch snails, Florida Fighting Conch snails
Scientific Name Strombus alatus
Tank size (minimal) 20 gallons (~90 liters)
Keeping Easy-Medium
Breeding Difficult 
Size 7 – 10 cm (~3 – 04 inches)
Optimal Temperature 24 – 29°C  (~75°F – 84°F)
Water type SG = 1.023 – 1.025
Optimal PH 8.1 – 8.4 (7.5 – 9)
Optimal KH 8 – 12
Nitrate Less than 20 ppm
Diet Omnivorous / Herbivorous
Temperament Peaceful
Life span up to 10 years
Color Form Dark reddish to brown

Origins, Natural Habitat of the Conch Snails 

Different types of conch snails can be found throughout the world in tropical climates. They are usually found in shallow waters and often frequent reefs. They often go deeper in search of food as they age, returning to the shallows only to lay eggs.

In the wild, Fighting conch snails inhabit seagrass beds, shallow reefs, sand, and rubble. 

Description of the Conch Snails

Fighting conch snail (Strombus alatus)Conch snails are easily one of the most recognizable snails in the ocean and on the beach. They are iconic for having a shell that will “sound like the ocean” when raised to one’s ear. Their shells are slightly conical, with a right-facing spiral pattern. The edge of their shells curls outward instead of folding inward, making them somewhat more vulnerable to predators – such as hermit crabs and certain fish – than other snails. Usually, their shells are striped as well.

Fighting Conch snails can see motion and movement far better than regular snails. They have well-developed eyes that will watch the action around them. When you walk up to the tank, you will see them watching your every move. So, if you put your hand in front of the snail, it will immediately react by pulling back into its shell and look directly at the danger. These eyes extend from under the lip of the shell and the left eye usually expends from a notch in the side of the shell.

They also have a very long proboscis mouth that kind of resembles an elephant’s trunk.

According to some studies, Strombus genus can live up to 10 years. Unfortunately, when kept in aquariums,  these conch snails do not live that long.

Aquarium Types of the Conch Snails

  • Fighting conch snails

Two different types of Conch snails are labeled “Fighting” snails, though neither are considered aggressive. Strombus alatus is known as the Florida Fighting Conch and Strombus pugilis is known as the West Indian Fighting Conch.

The two share a slight similarity in appearance, with strong points around their spiral and orange coloring on the outside of their shells. However, Florida Fighting Conch snails are found on the eastern coast of the United States from North Carolina to Florida, while West Indian Fighting Conch snails are found in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda, in the waters of the Caribbean Sea, and further south to Brazil. In addition, the key characters of Florida Fighting Conch snails are relatively thin and pointed spinners compared to other Strombus species.

Fighting Conch - Strombus alatus eyesFighting Conch snails can reach 7 – 10 cm (3 to 4 inches) in length. Their shell has a dark reddish-brown, often mottled with orange-brown or having zigzag bars of color on the shiny parietal wall. Conch snails have two eye-stalks that protrude from under their shells as well as a long snout that is actually their mouth.

  • Hawkwing Conch

The Hawkwing Conch snails (Strombus raninus) are Caribbean snails with a thick, heavy shell. The color is mostly brownish, with several disperse white spots. At the same time, both inner and outer lips are cream or white. In captivity, they can grow up to 10 cm (4 inches). However, it will take many years for that.

  • Tiger Sand Conchs

Tiger Sand Conchs (Strombus spp) are beige with darker brown bands. Their shell is cone-shaped with a small crown.

The Behavior of the Fighting Conch Snails

Despite the aggressive name, Fighting Conch snails are algae and detritus eaters and are absolutely harmless to other animals.

They move using their powerful foot to propel themselves. Fighting Conch snails have an interesting way to defend themselves. When not buried in the substrate or when threatened, they can appear to hop over the bottom. Also, when they are upside down, these snails “catapult” to right themselves.

They are pretty active creatures. You can see them during the day just moving around and eating.

Sexing of the Conch Snails

Fighting conch snail (Strombus alatus) sexingThere are several ways to sex Fighting Conch snails (Strombus alatus).

  1. The easiest method is to observe a copulating pair and note their positions.
  2. The most efficient way to determine the sex of the Strombus alatus is to place them on their side, and note a verge (male) or an egg groove (female) when they right themselves.
  3. According to biologists, to separate the males from the females in a large series at a glance with very few errors you need to calculate the average columella angle: for males 37.4° and for females 40.4°. 

Feeding Conch Snails

Although Fighting Conch snails are omnivorous, they feed mostly on algae (that other snails would never touch), bacteria, and detritus in tank environments. They will happily eat hair algae, green algae, and filamentous algae found in a tank. They will consume bacteria in the substrate as well as cyanobacteria and diatom blooms.

When the snail eats, it extends its long snout that has radula. The radula is a type of toothed tongue, which makes it possible for the snail to scrape off algae from the surfaces in the tank.

Important: They need a lot of food, so be prepared to supplement with other food. While they will also eat food that is uneaten by their tank mates, Conch snails can also be fed herbivore pellets, (algae pellets, dried algae, etc.) if you do not have enough algae growth.

Calcium is vital for good shell growth. I highly recommend reading my article “How to Supplement Shrimp and Snails with Calcium”.

Is Fighting Conch Snail Reef-Safe?

Despite their omnivorous nature, Fighting Conch snails are considered reef safe. When looking for food, they will not try to snack on corals. However, they do can knock over some freestanding corals that are on the bottom.

Keeping and Housing Conch Snails

 Their hardy nature makes Fighting Conch snails easy to care for, so both veterans and beginners can enjoy them.

As with any aquarium, you always need to make sure that the tank is set up correctly, and that the water is properly cycled. This ensures that you have the appropriate bacteria, which will convert harmful compounds into less harmful ones. 

Tank Size

A small Fighting Conch snail would be an excellent addition to the clean-up crew of a 20 gallon (~90 liters) tank. Especially if the tank is well established, there would likely be enough algae and bacteria already existing and being produced in the substrate to support the Conch snail as it grew to full size.

Larger Conch snails would need a larger tank. Basically, the more space you can provide the better.

Substrate

Fighting Conch snails should be kept in marine aquariums with sand or silt substrates that they will be able to delve into. They may disappear entirely for days as they eat through bacteria, algae, and microflora found in the substrate.

Ideally, your substrate should be deep enough to burrow down into the ground and disappear.

Note: Fighting Conch snails are an excellent alternative to sand sifting gobies. The huge advantage they have over the sand sifting gobies is they will not create a ridiculous sandstorm in your tank.

Water parameters

The salinity of a tank containing a Fighting Conch snail should be kept between 1.023-1.026 specific gravity as measured on a hydrometer. The pH should be kept between 8.1 – 8.4. They need hard water with lots of calcium to maintain and grow a healthy shell. This approximates the salinity and pH of the ocean at which Conch snails are usually found.

Note: Low levels of pH can start to dissolve the calcium carbonate shells of the snails. Therefore, if you see cracked, thin, or pitted shells, it can be a sign of low pH as well as low levels of calcium.

Additional measurements should be taken at regular intervals to ensure that proper parameters are maintained for a reef tank appropriate to Conch snails. Calcium should be kept between 420 – 440 ppm. Alkalinity, which is a measurement of carbonate hardness, should be regulated to a range of 8 – 12 dKH. Magnesium levels are best between 1280 – 1350 ppm. Phosphates, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates should all be at or approaching zero before any livestock is added to a marine tank. Copper can be lethal to Fighting Conch snails, so be careful with that. 

Temperature

As Fighting Conch snails are from shallow waters in tropical and subtropical environments. Their ideal environment is 75 – 84 °F (24 – 29 °C). Do consider adding a heater if the temperature is prone to fluctuating, as these snails are hardy but do need stable conditions.

Basic Tank Equipment (links to check the price on Amazon)

Mating Conch Snails

Unlike most snails, Conch snails are dioecious, with females having an egg channel in their foot. A male Fighting Conch snail must mate with a female Conch snail and fertilize eggs before they are laid. In order to copulate, a male Conch snail must insert his penis beneath the shell of a female Conch snail. If there is more than one male present, the two males may fight, using their proboscis.

Biologists noted a “follow-touch” courtship sequence between males and females. The males approach females with their proboliscis to start an interaction. The female would leap away from the male, rejecting copulation. The males would follow the female before copulation was successful. Fighting Conch’s copulation lasts from 5 minutes to 2 hours.

Interesting fact: The males can follow a chemical trail laid down in the sand by the females, some of which may be as far away as 5 m.
Note: There is no trend in mating based on the size of the mating female and male.

The Fighting Conch males also demonstrate protective (guarding) courting behaviors. These included a male “sparring” or fighting (using their proboscis) between two or three males over a female.

Breeding Conch Snails

In the wild, Fighting Conch snails breed in shallow waters in seagrass beds or sandy habitats. The reproduction season is typically during summer months.

Once a male copulates with a female, egg laying will occur, although this process may follow copulation by several weeks. Multiple males may fertilize individual egg masses from a single female.

Note: Researchers suggested that the egg laying females release a pheromone that may stimulate them to lay their eggs faster, so as to be able to spawn more often.
Interesting fact:  During the egg laying process, males may attempt to copulate with the females. The Females Strombidae have a reproductive system that can spawn and copulate (hold sperm) at the same time.

This Conch snail species lay eggs in long sticky streams, which can be found on tank glass or rocks. These eggs are tiny, often seeming as small as a grain of sand. Crescent-shaped egg mass contains up to 180 000 eggs.

Hawkwing Conch snails
(Strombus Raninus)
Fighting Conch snails
(Strombus Alatus)
Milk Conch snails
(Strombus Costatus)
Length of egg mass (cm) 6 – 11 5 – 8 8 – 22
№ eggs/mass (estimated) 91.000 – 250.000 76.000-182.000 87.000-440.000
№ of eggs capsules per mm 21-28 11-13 11-13

Free-swimming Fighting Conch larvae hatch from eggs and develop into veligers which later settle down the water column and undergo metamorphosis into the juvenile conch. Once the larvae hatch, they swim freely, feeding on plankton until they enter their next stage of life. As veligers, they feed on phytoplankton until they metamorphose into a juvenile Conch snail.

Metamorphosis takes place in 18 – 24 days. During this time, there is high mortality.

Rearing Larval Setup Conditions

If you get interested in breeding Fighting Conch snails, I would highly recommend reading the research about it (links below). According to them, hatched larvae of Raninus, Alatus, and Costatus were cultured at 20-50 veligers/L in 2 to 3 5-L containers using established techniques. The larvae water was 5 μm filtered, UV-treated, and changed daily. The cultures were not aerated, and the temperature was controlled by placing the containers in a water bath.

Larvae must receive the right amount of nutrition during this stage or development can be delayed. Depending on age, the larvae were fed 3000-20000 cell/mL of culture water of Tahitian Isochrysis daily.

Note: To increase the success rate of Metamorphosis, Biologists exposed larvae to the hydrogen peroxide inducer. 

Conch Snails and Suitable Tank mates

Fighting Conch snails can be kept with other fish and snails with ease in a size-appropriate tank. They may become aggressive with another male Conch snail. However, their relatively minor acts of aggression (e.g., pushing) cannot harm anybody. So do not be afraid because of their name.

They are compatible with shrimp like Red Fire shrimp (Lysmata debelius)Peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) or Skunk Cleaner (Lysmata amboinensis).

Some wrasses, Coral banded shrimp and hermit crabs may take advantage of the large opening in their shell to attack or eat Fighting Conch snails. Although unlike other snails, these snails are the masters at shaking them off. I would still watch these pairings closely when they are comparable in size. 

In Conclusion

Fighting Conch snails are easy to care for. Like most Conch species, they are known for digging into sandy substrates and keeping the sand bed stirred up. Although they can eat nearly everything, they are mostly herbivorous. These snails are hardy and interesting to watch. They are better adapted for a community tank than most

They are just very cool looking creatures and one of the most useful snails in the saltwater tanks.  

References:  

  1. Growth of Florida fighting conch, Strombus alatus, in recirculating systems. Conference Paper. January 2005.
  2. Shawl, A. L., & Davis, M. (2004). Captive breeding behavior of four Strombidae conch. Journal of Shellfish Research, 23(1), 157‐164.
  3. Shawl, Amber(2001). Closing the Cycle: Captive Breeding for the Gastropod Strombus.Master’s project, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/636.
  4. Queen Conch, Strombus gigas (Linnaeus 1758). Status Report. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Endangered Species Act of 1973.
  5. 14C VARIATIONS IN PRE-BOMB NEARSHORE HABITATS OF THE FLORIDAPANHANDLE, USA. Radiocarbon, Vol 57, Nr 3, 2015, p 469–479 DOI: 10.2458/azu_rc.57.18353.
  6. Harriet Perry & Kirsten Larsen (April 2, 2004). “A Picture Guide to Shelf Invertebrates from the Northern Gulf of Mexico”. Retrieved June 17,2010.
  7. Davis, M. and A. Shawl 2005 Fighting conch, Strombus alatus and Strombus pugilis: new food candidates for aquaculture. Proceedings of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute 56:769- 772.
  8. Gillette, P. & A. Shawl, 2006. Effects of Diet and Sex Ratio on the Reproductive Output of the Florida fighting conch, Strombus alatus. Proceedings of the 57. ANNUAL Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute:57, 947-954.
  9. Bower, W. J. (1945). Egg laying process of Strombus pugilis alatus Gmelin. The Nautilus 59 (1), 35.
  10. Reed, S.E. 1995. Reproductive Anatomy and Biology of the Genus Strombus in the Caribbean: II. Females. Journal of Shellfish Research 14(2):331-336.

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