How to Care for Mystery Snails: A Complete Fact Sheet, Breeding, Behavior, and Care Guide

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As a beginning aquarist, you may have heard both good and bad things about Mystery Snails. On the good side, they make excellent algae eaters and peaceful tank mates. On the other hand, they can multiply quickly or introduce disease into the community tank if not quarantined properly.

When I was growing up, I used to love to visit my uncle because he had a aquarium filled with beautiful tropical fish. He said there were two secrets ingredients to good aquarium health in plain view – meaning the freshwater snails that slowly, but constantly moved about the tank consuming algae, dead leaves, and anything else that looked appealing to them. 

While I was skeptical about keeping snails, I soon found out my uncle was right. Snails really are one of the best non-fish and non-plant based organisms you can add for good aquarium health. Learning mystery snail care is easy, and will give you a valuable tool for tanks of every size and shape.

mystery snail on aquarium plant

Quick Intro To Mystery Snails

Family NameAmpullariidae
Scientific NamePomacea bridgesii
Other NamesApple Snail, Golden Mystery Snail, Golden Snail
Care LevelEasy
Region of OriginSouth America, around Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay

General Appearance

Mystery Snails have the characteristic rounded shells that you see in other snail species. When they feel safe, they will extend their heads and eyestalks to find food and carry out other life activities.

They come in a wide range of shell colors including yellow, brown, black, white, and purple. Some have more solid coloring while others may have bands or splotches.

Males vs. Females

This can be somewhat complicated because a Mystery Snail is capable of changing gender. They do not have differences in terms of shell color, body size, or temperament.

How They Move in the Tank

Snails move very slowly. They will attach to the sides of the fish tank, rocks, or other items in the tank using their mouths. As they move along, you will see trails of cleaned area where they consume algae, and other detritus that seems edible to them.

Distant Relatives

There are many different kinds of aquatic snails including nerite snails that can be used in a home aquarium. Mystery snails are also loosely related to larger snails commonly used for food as well as terrestrial snails that you might find in your garden.

Habitat Type

Mystery Snails can live in any freshwater location where dead plant matter and algae are plentiful. This includes slow moving freshwater sources such as ponds and swamps as well as faster moving rivers and streams.

Optimal Water Conditions For Mystery Snails

As with other aquatic species, snails will not do well if the water parameters and water quality do not meet their needs. You will still need to check weekly or monthly (depending on the age of the tank setup) for pH, ammonia, hardness, nitrates, and nitrates. 

Water Temperature68 to 84 degrees fahrenheit
Water Flow RateWill get along fine in both rapid moving and slow moving waters. 
pH7.6 to 8.4
HardnessHard water
Aquarium Salt (Y/N)I personally don’t recommend using aquarium salt with Mystery Snails, although some say it is safe in small amounts. 
Tannins (Y/N)No

It is important to note that snails do need hard, alkaline water (high pH level) so that they can from strong shells. You may want to test for the presence for calcium, as well as use supplements to ensure the snails maintain healthy shells.

Tank Setup

Minimum Tank Size1 gallon tank
Optimal Tank Size5 gallons
Optimal Tank ShapeSnails will do fine in long, low tanks as well as taller ones.
Best Filter TypeAll
Testing Schedule First YearWeekly
Testing Schedule After 1 Year Monthly

Extra Air and How to Provide It

Airstones or air curtains set to low or mild settings. Aquarium snails sometimes let themselves free fall from the surface of the water. While they don’t mind floating on the currents, it is best to avoid rapid moving water that could dash them into hard surfaces that will damage their shells.

Even though snails are accustomed to doing this in fast-moving waters, there is a greater chance of their shell being damaged when the travel area is confined as in a tank.

mystery snail on red substrate

Creating the Landscape 

Rocky substrate or gravelAvoid sharp rocks. Rounded pebbles and finer gravel will work better.
Sandy substrateYes
Overhangs and cavesYes, especially if they will make a good place for algae to grow
Open waterSome
Densely plantedIn patches. 
Best PlantsSince Mystery Snails consume dead or decaying plant leaves, try choosing plants that grow fast and shed a lot of leaves.
Best LightingLow light
Best DecorationsCaves to hide in. Dead leaves and other materials to hide under or move through to obtain food. They will also consume algae that builds up on driftwood or other items in the tank.
Decorations to AvoidDecorations with flashing lights or under water lights. Mystery Snails tend to prefer a darkened tank. Bright lights will cause them to stay in their shell or hide instead of go out and forage for food.

Physiological Considerations

Maximum SizeUp to 6 inches, however the norm is 2- 3 inches.
Rate of GrowthReaches maximum size within 1 year.
Life Span1 year
TemperamentSnails can fight among themselves. When approached by other aquatic creatures, they have no means to defend themselves, so they will simply retreat into their shells. 
Preferred Tank RegionBottom, but females will go to the surface of the water so they can lay eggs above the water line.
Gill ConsiderationsMystery snails have both gills and lungs. Their gills will remain healthy in both slow and fast moving water.

Society

Mystery Snails are considered very non-aggressive creatures because they have no means to defend themselves. Even if a fish or some other creature attacks them, they must rely on their shell to prevent damage to their body.

Aside from that, there is no recognized social hierarchy for Mystery Snails. Males and females act the same and also look alike. The only difference you may notice is during the act of mating when the male climbs on top of the female.

  • Male to Female Ratio: Since Mystery Snails are capable of changing gender, there really isn’t an ideal ratio of males to females to start with. Perhaps it can be said the snails will optimize that on their own!
  • Schooling Behaviors: In cramped settings, you may notice snails moving very closely to each other. They do not, however, as a rule, travel together or intentionally create a social order.
  • Suitable Tankmates: Mystery Snails will get along with inca snails, ivory snails, tetras, ghost shrimp, amano shrimp, male betta fish, and other aquatic creatures. Try to avoid larger fish that are capable of breaking their shells or have a known interest in dining on snails.
  • Species to Avoid: Since Mystery Snails are nocturnal, avoid fish that are also active at night. This way, there is less a chance of fish bullying or intimidating the snails during hours when they are looking for food or carrying out other activities.

Common Behaviors You May See in Aggressive Mystery Snails

Changes in Eye ColorNo
ChasingSome. They may climb on each other or use their foot to push each other.
Circling with Fins SplayedNo, but they will come out of their shells and rear up while facing each other.
Fins Splayed as Other Fish Approach or When Approaching Other FishNo. When Mystery Snails are approached by other species of aquatic creatures, they will usually retreat into their shell. Even if the visitor bashes into them or nips at them, the snail will not come out of it shell.
Intensified ColorsNo
Mouth to Mouth BitingNo
NippingNo

Anti-Bullying Solutions That Work Best With Mystery Snails

Add More Snails of the Same SpeciesAs with male to female ratios – if more snails are needed, they will simply reproduce themselves. In fact, once snails get established, you may have to remove the eggs or encourage fish to eat them in order to avoid snail overgrowth.
Add More Males or Females No
Change Feeding Methods, Quantity, or Number of FeedingsYou can try leaving more dead or decaying plant material in the tank. 
Increase Number of Hiding PlacesYes
Isolate the Bully Yes
Move Decorations to Shake Up Territorial BoundariesYes
Move to a Bigger TankYes
Water Chemistry or Temperature ChangesNo

Gender and Reproductive Considerations

Unlike fish, there really isn’t a way to overbreed snails or raise them in a way that would produce adults that generate weak or non-viable offspring. In fact, Mystery Snails are considered an invasive species in many parts of the world because they are so good a taking over new habitats.

 Likewise, the ease with which they reproduce can be problematic in your aquarium as well. That being said, snails will live for a far shorter time than your aquarium will be in operation. Being able to recognize and manage reproduction is an important part of successful aquarium keeping.

How to Recognize Breeding Pairs

Usually, there is no courtship process as you would see in other aquatic creatures. Rather, once the female has eggs ready to fertilize, the male simply climbs on top from the females rear, and inserts his penis into her genital aperture. 

The snail pair will stay joined for several hours. During that time the female will continue carrying out normal activities such as eating and moving around the tank. The male, on the other hand, will retreat into his shell and stay there.

Once fertilization is complete, the male will climb off, and the female will go to the top of the tank. She will then proceed to lay eggs just above the water level. Usually this process takes place at night.

You can easily spot the eggs because they will look like a pinkish glob near the water line. Later on, cocoon around the eggs will harden and turn white. You can expect live snails to emerge from the cocoon in about 15 – 24 days.

How Many Babies?

50 to 200 per cycle.

Separate Hatchery?

Only if you have fish in the freshwater tank that are known to consume snail eggs or baby snails.

Special Needs for the Fry

There is no need to feed the babies anything extra or different from the parents. They will fall to the bottom of the tank and begin consuming algae and dead leaves just like their parents.

Managing the Babies

If you do not want more snails in the tank, simply remove the cocoon once you see it. Females can store sperm for several cycles, so the female may produce several more viable groups of eggs over the next few months.

In a situation where you want more snails in the tank, you may be able to simply let them manage on their own depending on the other creatures in the tank.

If you have omnivores or carnivores in the tank that enjoy snacking on crustaceans or other small, crunchy aquatic creatures, then the baby snails may be consumed by them. Otherwise, the babies should do just fine and grow to maturity.

Nutritional Needs

mystery snails with goldfish
Wild FoodsAlgae and dead plant matter
How ObtainedMystery Snails will move slowly over rocks and the bottom of the water body searching for suitable plant material. 
Best Sustenance FoodRotting leaves shed from live plants, and green algae. 
Additional Foods for Optimal HealthCalcium supplements to ensure good shell health
Special Foods for Color and GrowthLeave some plant based fish food, including bits of algae wafers around the tank for them to consume as it rots.

How to Replicate Natural Conditions

Leave some algae in the tank and let plant leaves decay instead of removing them. You can also put some blanched lettuce, zucchini, or other vegetables in the tank or other vegetables that will rot quickly. Be careful of fouling the water.

When and How Often To Feed based on Place in Life Cycle

There is no set feeding schedule. If you let the tank overgrow a bit with algae and do not ruthlessly trim plants, the snails should get all the food they need. Follow manufacturer instructions for using calcium and other supplements formulated for aquatic snails. 

Finicky Snail Management Troubleshooting Checklist

Check (and get rid of) Ammonia and NitritesYes
Lower Nitrates to Level Suitable for Mystery Snails Keep nitrates below 20 ppm
Test (and Adjust if Needed) Other Water Chemistry ParametersYes
Check for IllnessYes. Watch for shell pitting, cracking, and thinness.
Try These Frozen/Thawed or Live Foods None

Look for Signs of Bullying Such as Missing Scales, Nipped Fins or other Damage

Yes, watch for other fish harassing the snails, especially at night when snails are more likely to be active.

Observe for Possible Environmental Stresses

  • Too Much/Too Little Light – yes – Mystery Snails do best in low light and are nocturnal creatures. 
  • Sounds – possible
  • Vibrations – possible 
  • Odors From Air Sprays, Cooking, Construction, etc – yes.

Mystery Snails are definitely susceptible to antibiotics and may also be sensitive to airborne chemicals that dissolve into the water.

Common Diseases and How to Avoid and Treat Them

For the most part, Mystery Snails are healthy creatures. They may carry some parasites that can infect fish and other species, including humans.

How to avoid species-specific diseases

The most dangerous disease Mystery Snails carry is a parasite called Rat Lungworm. It is usually found in rats, and then passes to snails. Humans can catch this parasite from consuming raw snails or drinking water infected with the parasite. If you are exposed to Rat Lungworm, you may develop eosinophillic meningioencephailitis. 

While most people say this disease is hard to catch, you never know when children will put their hands in the tank, or droplets of water from an infected aquarium will spray into your mouth. Always buy certified disease free snails and be careful of fish that are housed with snails before purchase.

As snails approach the end of their lives, they may swell up and take on more water. Some will die quickly from the fluid buildup, while others may live as normal for some time. There is no cure for this condition. 
Other than this, the most common diseases in snails are related to dietary insufficiency that affect their shells.

Thinning, pits, and cracking are all indicators that the snail needs more calcium or other minerals in its diet.

Best antibiotics

Do not use antibiotics with snails unless the manufacturer says it is safe to do so. In most cases, you will use dietary modification to treat snail health challenges.

Treatments to avoid

Most antibiotics will kill snails. If you must treat other creatures in the tank for any given disease, you may need to remove the snails.

Food recommendations

Increase calcium supplementation or other vitamin supplements for aquatic snails.

Isolation or Hospital Tank?

Not needed.

3 Interesting Facts About Mystery Snails

  1. A number of fish and other creatures will nibble on Mystery Snail’s eyestalks. They have the capacity to regrow them completely in just a few weeks.
  2. Mystery Snails are distinctly different from many others species of snail in the sense they are not hermaphrodites (having both genders present at the same time in a single individual. Instead, the snails actually change gender over time and as the need arises.
  3. The opening in a snail’s shell may differ from animal to animal. If the opening is to the right, it is a right handed snail. Likewise, if the opening is to the right of the shell, it is called a left handed snail.

Mystery Snails occupy an important part in a healthy freshwater aquarium. Once you purchase these creatures and place them in the tank, you are sure to enjoy their brilliant colors and find them a great addition to your tank.

Where to Buy Mystery Snails

While you can find Mystery Snails at most pet stores that sell aquatic pets, our preference is Amazon for convenience.

Here’s our top recommendation:

mystery snail

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