Snails In My Aquarium


What Do Snails Eat In An Aquarium?

I always wonder what aquarium snails eat when there is no algae. In particular, when I am cleaning or swapping tanks for fish (and the subsequently the snails) what are they going to eat for a a few weeks? Should I stick a carrot in there? I recently swapped out a 10 gallon aquarium for a new 20 gallon aquarium so I could run a full size filter. In addition to keeping the water cleaner than the 10 gallon filterless tank, I also felt like this would keep the environment more stable temperature and *other* wise. Right? As long as BP doesn't come to my house, that is. 

So I swapped out tanks, most of the rocks, and all of the gravel. I was worried there would be nothing for the 30 or so little snails to eat until algae grew somewhere. So I stuck a big leaf of Swiss Chard in there. Also, some of the rocks I transferred had a fair amount of algae, so all in all, I didn't worry to much. But I was curious....

So What DO Snails Eat?

I know in the garden, snails like to eat things like Swiss Chard, Lettuces, and other greens. I am a bit of a francophile and know escargots are a delicacy of course. But I had never thought too much about the difference between snails we eat and snails that eat our garden food. While in France, I learned there is no real difference (see below).

Snail Feeding

Snails tend to feed on a variety of items found in their natural habitat. In short, anything vegetative is quite possibly snail food.

What they will actually consume depends on where they live and the type of snail that they are. Some common items for their diet include plants, fruits, vegetables, flowers, and algae. Plants that are decaying are often a good meal for them. When they can’t find much else to consume they will eat the dirt.

Yes, dirt. "And after there was no more crawdads, we ate dirt."  Love that scene.

This reminds me of when I first had the opportunity to have fresh snails in France. My first wife's mother had a gaggle of snails in her garden and thought one day to ask I would like to eat them. I said sure. She collected a couple dozen of large snails and proceeded to 'clean' them by putting them in a large clear Tupperware with white flour on the bottom. I watched them for a week at every meal we had in the kitchen slowly eat the flour, then leave green slimy trail along the sides of the Tupperware as they 'cleaned' themselves out.  Day after day. By the time they were 'clean' I was less enthusiastic about eating them after watching them for so long. But I did. Sort of like killing the cow yourself instead of picking up your food at the super-marché.

Snails Eat Fish!

Previously I had read that snails are herbivores which means they won’t consume meat items and you will likely find snails around your garden as this offers them plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to eat. However, my new Ivory Mystery Snail MIGHT disagree. One morning I checked on my tank before leaving for work and found this relatively new tank occupant, Mr. Mystery Snail, almost engulfing a freshly killed Red Wag of about two inches long. At first I could not believe it. I had to imagine this sneaky Mystery Snail waiting in hiding, then "pouncing" out and grabbing the Red Wag, wrestling it down to the bottom of the tank and then slowly smothering it in Mystery Snail mystery slime. Mystery slime is the secret weapon the Mystery Snail must use to paralyze and kill prey, right?

This seemed ridiculous, but the more I watched, the more it looked like the Mystery Snail was indeed gnawing away with its little radula mouth orafice on this poor Red Wag. Indeed, when a little Khulia Loach and an African Dwarf Frog that had been eye-balling this prize catch came and wrestled the Red Wag from the snail and began nibbling at it, it was obvious the radula was doing its work and was indeed scraping red scales off the back half of the Red Wag. Too incredible! 

Five of the six Neon Tetra had gone missing since introducing the Mystery Snail as well. Did I have a meat loving murderous Mystery Snail in my tank? Or was the Peacock Eel suddenly ravenous? Or what? This was so bizarre to think a Mystery Snail is killing off my fish...

Controlling Land Snails

Large numbers of land snails in a garden or crops can quickly become a serious problem. They will consume enough of what it growing to ruin the hard work that has been put into the area. If you are talking about a location where someone is growing food to eat or to sell then their livelihood is also being compromised. This is why people do all they can to prevent snails from consuming these types of foods that they are growing. To be more humane, many that have gardens or farms strive to trap the snails that are in the vicinity rather than killing them. They either release them back into new environments or they will sell them as a source of food. One of the easiest ways to trap snails is to place lids from jars with beer in them in the garden. They seem to be attracted to beer in particular. I don't know if they like any particular brand or style though. You may have to experiment. For areas that are too large to set traps, another way to prevent damage to their crops involves placing screens or strips of mesh of copper that is placed in the ground around the area to be protected.

The slime from the snails doesn’t seem to mix very well with the copper and that means they will stay away from the foods that are growing. This process has been very successful. Snails have to feed on foods that consume large amounts of calcium. This is necessary to keep their shell hard and protective like it should be. When looking for food they use their powerful sense of smell to find their prey.

Snails Are Nocturnal

Being nocturnal, snails have poor vision and can’t see much beyond their immediate proximity. They will typically be looking for sources of food during the night or during the very early morning hours. They consume more food as colder months approach. This is so they can store up fat reserves to live on while they hibernate during the winter. When food sources are very low in the summer or spring months, they may voluntarily put their body into a state of hibernation as well. This allows them to conserve energy and not need to forage for additional food. This is a mechanism that allows them to be able to survive in difficult conditions of drought.

They have a tongue that is very rough and the technical term for it is radula. They have rows of very small teeth that they use to scrap against the foods they want to consume. They are said to be noisy eaters. It is the radula typically making this noise which is tearing on what has been "swallowed" so it can find its way to the digestive tract.

No Sugar Or Salt

When you have snails as pets you want to pay close attention to their diet. If you feed them anything containing salt or sugar they will die. So will lightly salted aquariums hurt your aquatic snails? Good question. Since I have started lightly salting my aquarium, there are definitely less snails and more empty snail shells. However, I still can't rule out the Peacock Eel being the culprit. I probably need to get a video camera set up and then review days worth of the Peacock Eel's activity to really know. Will I ever actually do that? Maybe. If I do, I will definitely let you know.


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