A Tale of Two Snail Species

Posted 2009.12.30 10.44 in Aquaria

I don’t really like using labels like ‘good’ and ‘bad’, but they have the advantage of being short, concise, and not-too-inaccurate.¬†Good Snails are the ones that a) you pay money for, b) you give names to, c) you care for, and/or d) that you’ve intentionally raised from babies.

Bad Snails are the pests that sneak in on plants and things, that reproduce like rabbits on fertility drugs, eat all the food, clog up the filter, and generally have all the appeal of fleas on a dog. These are the ones that you spot one or two, then the following week there are four dozen, then the following week there are eleventy million.

They actually pick on the Good Snails, clinging to them like the aforementioned fleas, picking at any faults or flaws in their shells, laying their eggs on them, and driving the Good Snails, and myself, quite mad with frustration.

In the past 6 months, I’ve encountered several species of pest snail. There are the Physidae, commonly known as bladder snails, tadpole snails, or occasionally pond snails. These ones are sort of foot-ball shaped and have sinestral (left-handed) shells, with no operculum (no shell door). The Physidae breed quite quickly, but have thin shells that are easily squished or cracked, and many fish will eat them.

Then there are the Bithynia, commonly known as faucet snails. These look like miniature apple snails, complete with operculums, but are strictly aquatic and tiny. They don’t breed out of control, aren’t that pesky, and I’ve taken to keeping a group of them in my Betta tank because they are rather cute and tiny.

Then you have the trumpet snails, I don’t know the scientific name for them. They have the long hard conical shell, a shell door, and like to burrow in the substrate. I have a single trumpet snail, and he hasn’t done much breeding at all. Now and then I’ve seen a baby trumpet, but they seem not to survive.

Finally, there are the Planorbidae – commonly known as Ramshorns. These are the Bad Snails. Baddest of the Bad. The ones I’ve experienced are tiny, as full-grown adults they are seldom more than 4mm in diameter. The Planorbids have been making me and my Apple snails crazy.

Here is the big Catch-22 of the situation. I can’t make a habitat that is happy and friendly and healthy for my apple snails, and yet is unpleasant for the damn ramshorns. In fact the ramshorns are hardier and so much more prolific, that they’re more likely to survive any disturbances in the habitat than the apple snails.

People have suggested catching them, smushing them, etc. but this is as effective as plucking fleas off a dog – you might get a few, or even a lot, but you never get them all. And as long as one or two remain, the problem will persist. Traps never made a dent in the population. I could spend 2 hours a day smushing the ones I could see, but the next day there were always hundreds more to take their place. (And I don’t want to spend 2 hours every day doing this.)

Finally, in desperation, I turned to chemical weapons – the weapons of mass-desnailing I had used in the summer.

I moved my five prized apple snails to a temporary isolation tank, then started dosing the snail tank with Had-A-Snail. The first day (Dec 23rd), was no effect. But the second day (Dec 24th) within minutes of adding the dose, planorbids were dropping from the tank walls and filters like snowfall, just drifting on down.

Day three (Dec 25) I did massive water changes, removed all the substrate (aka gravel) and cleaned out the filters.

Then the challenge was to continue with water changes and introduce new clean substrate, in an effort to purge the copper-based poison from the tank as quickly as possible. Once the poison was purged, then the apple snails could return. Meanwhile, in isolation, I’d been monitoring them to see if any of the damned ramshorns appear – if there were eggs or hidden stowaways that I missed earlier.

So far, no sign of the planorbids on my apple snails. There have been a few ¬†planorbids turn up in the tank post-purge, but I’ve dealt with them as I’ve found them.

I’ve now moved two of my apple snails (Little Buddy and Speed Racer) back to the main tank. I also let an egg clutch hatch into the main tank. It seems that the toxin has been purged. After countless water changes, it must be returning to a level of safety. (“the solution to pollution is dilution”)

Hopefully the ramshorns are done and gone, and the tank will be clear and clean and a happy place again for apple snails.

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