What Do Snails Eat? You’ll Be Surprised At How Simple It Is!
Snails can provide an interesting twist, both in color and diversity to any aquarium. These little critters will add spice and a new sense of adventure especially if the excitement you once felt about new fish, live rock, or aquascape is starting to wane.
Moreover, like the fish and the other aquatic organisms that went before it, snails will ask you a specific way of nurturing and diet. You’ll face such questions as “what do snails eat?” or “what type of snails will be suitable for my aquarium?”
Also, with the addition of snails to your freshwater or marine tank, you’ll need to reach a delicate balance so that your snails will thrive, but that they also do not reproduce to profusion.
Fortunately, their diet will address many of these concerns. The burning question then is:
What Do Snails Eat?
Just about anything. That’s no joke. There’s a substantial difference between species but similar to freshwater shrimp; snails are primarily omnivores who will feast on anything into which they can sink their myriads of teeth.
From otherwise uneaten fish food, plant matter, algae, various detritus, and even dead or decomposing fish, snails will happily clean up the organic mess in your tank. Some owners would even choose to feed their snails algae discs.
Snails love this type of feed since it settles at the bottom of the tank, within their reach, and also because snails are natural algae eaters, or more accurately, lovers.
Additionally, if you add a snail to a mature tank that has a moderate build-up, you can even get away with very rare feeding times.
After a while, your snail will have cleaned up much of the algae, whether it’s on the substrate, plants, or your aquarium’s glass walls.
But Wait, There’s more!
Although it may be true that it would be easier to overfeed snails than to underfeed them, a basic grasp on their background, eating habits, and diet will assist you greatly in improving their health, intensifying shell color, and keeping a check on their fast-growing population.
Additionally, this knowledge will become even more significant if you plan to take care of more than one snail, or several from different species.
With these points in mind, let’s take a quick look at the snail and its eating habits.
How Snails Eat
Snails are very efficient eaters. If you’ve ever had one on your hand or up close, you’ll notice that their “mouths” are close to their antennae-looking tentacles. It may have even tried to taste you.
The rough sensation you feel from its mouth is due to its myriad of teeth that rip food like a file. Their mouth functions more like a tongue, and their eating process is closer to gnawing than chewing.
The Types of Snails
There are two main kinds of snails: land snails, and aquatic snails. Since were in the context of aquarium-keeping, we’ll focus solely on aquatic - freshwater snails and their diets.
Aquatic or water snails are further divided into two groups: freshwater snails as well as marine or sea snails. Obviously, you can find sea snails in saltwater and oceans. A good example of this variety of snail is the cowry.
Again, with regards to aquariums, the most common snail pets are those you can find in freshwater.
Habitats notwithstanding, both freshwater and sea snails subsist on a diet that is primarily algae, plant matter, and organic detritus.
This diet means they’ll also easily feed on decaying plant or fish debris as well as fish food that may otherwise go uneaten.
The Diet of the Freshwater Snail
Algae may just be the snail’s favorite food source since there is usually an abundant supply in their natural habitats as well as in aquariums.
You’ll find these algae-eating snails grazing on aquarium rocks, substrate, and along aquarium walls where algae collect naturally.
Freshwater snails’ love of algae is a big reason why Algae Flakes are a big thing among aquarists who rear snails in their aquariums.
Popular algae-eaters are the Ivory Snail and the Nerite Snail.
The snail’s love for scavenging is a major reason as to why aquarists acquire these invertebrates. Like their invertebrate cousins, shrimp, snails are incredibly useful at keeping a tank clean.
Whether it’s uneaten fish food, organic debris, decaying plant material, or even dead fish, you snails will be happy chewing, or rather, gnawing away.
Good examples of scavenging snails are the Ramshorn Snails and Pond Snails.
Some snails are more inclined to partake of the plants in your aquarium, whether it's plant matter or the aquarium plants you already have.
This voracious appetite for anything green, including algae, is the reason why many aquarists take great care when nurturing plant-eating snails.
Hence, when choosing to add “Vegetarian” snails such as Apple snails or Mystery snails, ensure that you keep both the population of snail to plant so, you won’t end up with a deforested aquarium.
Lastly, you can also get snails that are more inclined to feast on live prey. The appropriately named and famous Assassin Snail is a good example of a meat-loving snail.
In fact, aquarists commonly use the Assassin Snail to both control and decimate other snail species. Additionally, these snails typically do not present the problem of overpopulation as they tend to breed relatively slower.
Meat-eating snail prey on small shellfish or bivalves, so make sure to have enough “disposable” invertebrates, such as decorative shrimp or shellfish to keep meat-lovers satisfied.
Supplementing Food for Your Snails
Although the four food groups above are the typical diet that aquatic snails will find in the wild, that shouldn’t limit you when supplementing their diet with healthy and nutritious food. Below are some more feed ideas for your aquarium gastropods.
You can provide your snails a diverse diet of fruits which will all be very easy for them to eat and digest. Simply follow these guidelines for a healthy fruit diet:
- Choose fruits that will hold up well underwater such as cucumbers, apples, and pears. Peeling these fruits beforehand will also make them easier for your snails to eat
- Avoid acidic fruits such as lemons or tomatoes.
- Ensure that you thoroughly scrub and wash fruit to remove and harmful pesticides and other chemicals.
Select vegetables will also be very popular among your pet snails especially if they’re plant-eaters. They’ll quickly and happily learn to eat leafy vegetables, carrots, lettuce, and the like.
Additionally, you should prepare to produce in a similar way to fruit: Remember to wash them thoroughly; peel them if you can, and soften the harder vegetables like carrots via blanching.
Don’t forget to let them cool completely though before giving them to your snails.
It may be quite difficult finding specialized food for your snail. However, they will love algae wafers, as well as shrimp and fish food as long as they are the kind that will sink to the bottom of your tank.
Alternatively, aquarium food that sticks to the side of your tank will be ideal for your snails.
One of the best things about keeping snails is their beautiful and colorful shells.
However, Aquarium hobbyists know that you’ll only get the healthiest, strongest and most colorful shells from their snails if they have enough calcium in their diet. Calcium also helps shells heal faster and grow back stronger or thicker.
Before supplementing your aquarium with calcium, ensure that your tank water needs the supplementation since many aquariums already have adequate levels of this water parameter.
If you do need to enrich your tank with more calcium, ground coral, egg shells, and cuttlefish bones are excellent calcium sources for your precious gastropods.
Feeding and nurturing aquatic snails can be a nice addition to an aquarist’s routine. Apparently, snails aren’t difficult to feed with their diverse diet and love of food that is usually already present in many aquariums.
Don’t get carried away, though. Aquatic snails can reproduce in profusion, and some don’t even need a mate. So, don’t be surprised if your single but overfed snail turns into a family of twelve. A precious pet snail can quickly become an invasive pest.
Hence, for the safety of your aquarium and its inhabitants, remember to keep snail populations in check. Invest in an assassin snail or two.