Apple snails are easy animals that do well in a common aquarium or a pond.
They can live together with most fish species and they can be used to keep the
aquarium clean of algae. Not all apple snail species are a good choice for aquaria
as their voracious appetite for aquatic vegetation is often not desired and
the bigger species can cause problems with
the water quality in smaller tanks.
The purpose of this guide is to provide a solid guide for everyone keeping these snails and to avoid the most common misconceptions and pitfalls.
Species specific needs
Most apple snails are voracious plant eaters (herbivores or macrophytophagous) that eat a wide range of vegetation. Held in captivity, they do well on common vegetables in combination with fish food.
Unfortunately, many species have a great appetite for aquatic vegetation and algae are not their preferred food. In such cases these scavengers can reduce the aquatic vegetation very quickly. They can ruin a beautiful aquarium within days.
Pomacea flagellata eating lettuce. (picture not licenced under creative commons)
Apple snail eating another (dead) snail (Pomacea flagellata).
However not every apple snail deploys the same appetite, it mainly depends
on the species of apple snail. So in this way,
it could be useful to know which snail species has been released in the aquarium.
It should be emphasised in this context that the identification of apple snails
is difficult. The difficulty to determine the species lies herein that many
apple snail species are very similar in appearance. A basic identification guide
for apple snails is available in the species section.
It would be a nice thing if the apple snail names were applied correctly, but the most commonly used names: mystery snails, golden apple snail, ivory snails and so on are used for many of the apple snail species and most aquarium shops aren't even aware of the different species at all.
The colours of the apple snail aren't useful to determine the species as many variations occur within a single species. Examples of this can be seen at the Pomacea canaliculata section and the Pomacea diffusa section. A better approach is the shell shape, but even that can be tricky and is only useful for certain species. Luckily, only a few species are common in the aquarium trade, which simplifies the whole matter. So I'll describe only the needs for these specific species. If you don't manage to find out which species you have then it's a good idea to try if they eat your plants before putting several of these creatures in your aquarium.
(spike-topped apple snail, Brazilian apple snail, golden mystery snail and ivory
snail) prefers dead and rotting plants above fresh green ones. Occasionally
they eat the softer vegetation. Pomacea
diffusa snails are thus a good choice for an aquarium equipped
with a nice collection of water-plants. What is even more: they tend to starve
to dead in the middle of the vegetation if you don't provide them with enough
The Pomacea diffusa apple snails do very well on all kind of fish food and it could be useful to try some soft vegetables for those cases they would like some green food. Very handy types of fish-food are those tablets sold for algae-eaters, but other types of fish-food will do as well. If you like to keep the expenses low, just buy pond-fish food. This comes in a big quantity for a relatively low price and has a big advantage: it keeps floating, so it won't make a mess on the bottom of your aquarium and the left-over can be removed easily. Although floating food might seems a bit strange for snails, apple snails know very well how to handle it: they go to the surface and form a funnel with their foot in which they let the water from the surface flow through (ciliary feeding, as can be seen in ecology section and in the anatomy section). The food at the surface then floats towards the snail and gets stuck in this funnel after which the snail eats the catch.
(channeled apple snail), Pomacea maculata
(giant apple snail, peruvian apple snail), Pomacea paludosa
(Florida apple snail) and Marisa cornuarietis
(columbian apple snail, giant ramshorn) are less selective in their food choice
and they devour all vegetation.
To keep these snails healthy, feed them on a regular base with vegetables (lettuce, cucumber, small pieces of carrots, green beans and celery), weeds from the garden and ordinary fish food (see above).
Important: Always thoroughly wash the vegetables if you're not sure that they are come from a biological farm. Vegetables should be free of insecticides and molluscides and it won't hurt to play safe. You probably won't feel anything when you eat vegetables with some residues of these products on it, but the snails could be harmed!
Other types of food
Besides vegetables and fish food pellets, apple snails also eat all kinds of other food if available. Apple snails won't refuse brine shrimps and other frozen foods or even dead fish and insects. Even other snails can appear on the menu of an apple snail (this has been reported for Pomacea canaliculata and Marisa cornuarietis). This makes them also a good option for tank cleaning.
Apple snails do eat microscopic vegetation (micropagous) that grows on stones, the wall of the tank etc., but don't expect them to 'clean' the tank completely from algea.
If you want your snails to get out of the water, just attach some food partly above the waterline. It's partly because of this behaviour (leaving of the water getting their food) which makes them such a problem in the rice-fields of Asia and Hawaii, where they feed on the young rice-crops.
How much food?
This a merely a trial-and-error option: just see how much they eat on a daily base and supply them with that amount every day. This would be a useful approach if it wasn't that many apple snail species tend to aestivate (have a dry-time hibernation) or start to hibernate (domancy during the winter season). The latter situation is the most common form of inactivity in apple snails that are kept in captivity. During this inactivity period, the amount of food they need decreases, while in spring and summer the amount of energy needed increases, when they become active and starts with their reproductional efforts (egg-production).
These seasonal differences in activity levels are mainly induced by temperature, which also means that this seasonal variation decreases, but does not necessarily disappears, when the temperature is kept constant throughout the year.
A better feeding approach would thus be to vary the amount of food: less food in fall and winter, while increasing the amount to ad libidum (food as much as they can eat) in spring and summer.
Apple snails that are found in the aquarium trade don't make high demands when
it comes to water quality: they can live very well in clear, streaming, oxygen-rich
water as well in still water, with rotting organic waste, containing almost
In general one should apply the same rules for water quality as with fish (ammonia, nitrite, nitrate etc) and the water should not be too soft. Like most snails, apple snails prefer calcium rich water. If the calcium concentration in the water isn't high enough (soft water), they aren't able to build a strong shell and become susceptible to shell damage, but even in good conditions, some snails still get little holes in the shell surface, especially in the older parts of their shell. This is a naturally occurring process and as long it's only at the surface, you shouldn't worry too much about it. In the 'snail disease' section, you can see an example of a snail with a damaged shell. Young and healthy snails are somewhat protected against this as the outer layer of the shell consist of a protein layer that prevents a breakdown of the shell, but damaged shells and shells of older snails are quite vulnerable to shell detoriation.
Warning! If the tap-water in your area contains copper and/or other metals, use one of these water preparation products that catch away those metals bofere putting the snail in the water. Apple snails are very sensitive for these compounds (especially copper). You won't be the first one loosing a snail due to this snail-toxic substances in the water. If you see that the snails become completely inactive or if the snails, especially the little ones, try to leave the water after a water change: get a product to treat the water (like aquasafe or for those with access to a lab: use EDTA or something similar).
When there are many apple snails in a tank, the water tends to become cloudy because apple snails have a large amount of microorganisms in their intestine, which help to digest the food, and which are expelled with the faeces. These micro-organisms (amoebocytes) should not cause any harm to the fish and can even serve as a food source for young fish. Fresh food (lettuce etc.) are more likely to induce this micro-organism based clouding of the water. If the snails are fed with dry fish food, the water will stay cleaner. It is a good idea to do regular water changes if you have many creatures in one tank, just like one would advise with fish, to maintain good water quality and to avoid accumulation of toxic substances and waste. By the way, apple snails are good indicators for the oxygen-level in your tank. When there isn't much oxygen in the water, the snails will regularly come to the surface to inhale fresh air through the breathing siphon. Only when there is enough oxygen for them in the water, they don't need their lung and solely depend on their gill.
The amount of water needed for each snail depends on the size of the snail,
the filtration capacity and the temperature. As a general rule of thumb one
should provide at least 10-liters/2.5 gallon for each mid-sized snail (±5cm/2inch.
diameter). Or another way: count each apple snail as a fish of the same length
as the snail's shell diameter. Be cautious not to overcrow your snail tank.
While it hasn't been proven that apple snails actually 'sense' that they are
in large numbers in a small space, the water quality quickly detoriates and
substances that inhibit the snail growth are increasing quiker. Regular refreshment
of a part of the water is highly recommended.
The water doesn't have to be deep (2 or more times the shell height). Remember that most apple snail species inhabit swamps in which the water level is quite low. Be sure to have a coverplate on your aquarium or at least make sure that they can't get out of it or otherwise: don't be surprised to find a snail on the ground in the morning. Don't worry, they can easily survive out of the water for more then a week, but they risk damaging their shell when hitting the ground.
An important thing, often forgotten, is to provide an air space above the water to allow the snail to leave the water to deposit her eggs. This air space should be at least the same height as the size of the shell. If the snail does not have access to sufficient air space, the animal will have to deposit the eggs below the water, where they will drown. Obvious, this does not count for those species that deposit the eggs below the surface like the giant ramshorn (Marisa cornuarietis), Asolene spixi, Lanistes species and others. Note!: Some species are more likely to creep out of the water than other species do.
As apple snails prefer to hide themselves in darker places during daytime, some stones, a trunk or some plants are well appreciated. They also have the habit of burying in the substrate in search for food and when they aestivate in the winter periods. If the soil on the bottom is thick and soft the snails can be hard to locate.
Apple snails are most active during the night, which already indicates their
preference for the darker places of their environment. During the day, they
remain mostly in the shadow of plants and creep away in the bottom and/or mud.
When the dark comes in, the apple snail becomes more active and crawls around
in search for food, a mating partner or a good place to deposit
Keep in mind that there is a large variation in activity levels amongst the different apple snail species. For example Pomacea canaliculata, the common channeled apple snail or better known as the Golden apple snail (incorrect! 'Golden' should only be used for yellow Pomacea diffusa snails), is relatively active during the day and often risides close to the water surface. Pomacea flagellata, the Mexican or Maya apple snail, hides in the bottom during the day. The well known Pomacea diffusa (mystery snail, spiketopped apple snail, golden apple snail) fits in between of these two activity levels.
Apple snails don't need artificial illumination like TL-tubes, but as you probably want to observe them, a standard aquarium light-lid would suffice.
If you keep the snails in sunlight, like happens with an outside pond, the shell of the snails become covered with algae, giving them a green and hairy look. This might look scary, but it's harmless for the snails.
Suggestion: If you would like to raise baby apple snails, it would be a good idea to provide enough light, so that some algae can grow in the aquarium. Little apple snails have a better chance to survive the delicate first weeks after hatching if they have access to algae as food source.
Light dependent growth has been observed by Pomacea glauca. If the snails were kept in a completely dark environment, their growth decreased, compared with animals that were kept in a 12 hour/day light environment. (Zischke et al. 1970)
The optimal water temperature for apple snails lays between 18 to 28°C (65-82°F). As with many cold-blooded animals, apple snails are more active at higher temperatures. At higher temperatures, they eat faster, creep faster and they grow faster. Also higher temperatures mainly induce the reproduction of the apple snail. At lower temperatures (18°C/65°F) the apple snail enters a dormancy state in which they creep away in the mud and become very inactive. Temperatures below 18°C/65°F should be avoided as the mortality rate quickly increases.
Below: Reported temperature limits in various apple snail (Ampullariidae) species.
|Marisa cornuarietis||> 40°C||1 - 4 h lethal||Freiburg and Hazelwood, 1977|
|33.5 - 35.5°C||normal behaviour||Robin, 1971|
|11°C||24 h||Robin, 1971; Neck, 1984|
|8°C||5h lethal||Robin, 1971|
|Pila globosa||> 40°C||2 days lethal||Meenakshi, 1964|
|20°C||4 days lethal||Meenakshi, 1964|
|10°C||1 day lethal||Meenakshi, 1964|
|Pila virens||> 40°C||2 days lethal||Meenakshi, 1964|
|20°C||4 days lethal||Meenakshi, 1964|
|10°C||1 day lethal||Meenakshi, 1964|
|Pomacea canaliculata||> 32°C||high mortality||Mochida, 1991|
|0°C||15 - 20 days||Mochida, 1991|
|-3°C||2 days||Mochida, 1991|
|-6°C||6 h||Mochida, 1991; Neck and Schultz, 1992; Wada, 1997|
|Pomacea lineata||40°C||1 h||Santos et al., 1987|
|5°C||1 h||Santos et al., 1987|
|Pomacea paludosa||> 40°C||1 - 4 h lethal||Freiburg and Hazelwood, 1977|
|5°C||short||Freiburg and Hazelwood, 1977|
|Pomacea urceus||40 - 45°C||short||Burky et al., 1972|
There are a few things to be considered to successfully breed apple snails:
- Since apple snails are gonochoristic (separated sexes), a male and a female snail are needed(obvious).
- Apple snails reproduce when the temperature rises in combination with abundance of food available.
- For those species that lay their eggs above the water, one should provide enough air space (+15cm/6 inch).
- Some species might need an aestivation period in the mud before they breed successfully (does not apply to the most common species).
It is also important to mention that female apple snails can store sperm for
months, so even the eggs of a single snail can be fertile. With no male snail
present, female apple snails occasionally produce infertile eggs. Obviously,
these do no hatch. Last but not least: most species lay their eggs above the
water and they should stay there while the eggs of aquatic layers should stay
below the surface.
At the right circumstances an apple snail can produce one clutch of eggs every 4-7 days during several weeks. After this period, productivity decreases and the female snail regains strength. The species, temperature and availability of food are the main factors in the egg production.
Read more about the life cycle of apple snails here.
Species that lay eggs above the waterline (genera:
(Pomella) and Pila): After the eggs are deposited, they are soft and
have a rather milky, pink colour. After a few hours, they harden and get their
definitive colour (from pale pink to raspberry-red or even greenish depending
of the species). It might happen that the eggs
at the surface dry out, on which they get a lighter colour.
The size of the eggs varies from 2.2 to 3.5 mm / 0.01 to 0.14 inch each (in case of Pomacea canaliculata), whereas Pomacea paludosa and Pila globosa for example lay eggs with a diameter of 4 to 7 mm / 0.16 to 0.28 inch. The eggs at the surface probably won't deliver you many little snails when the air humidity is not optimal, but often the eggs deeper inside the clutch thrive well.
It's no problem to transfer the egg clutch to another location, as long as you are careful not cause too much damage. A damages clutch is more prone to infections and evaporation. The best way to move the eggs is by wetting the clutch, wait a few hours and then carefully move the clutch over the surface until it comes off. Obviously this method is of most successful on glass or other smooth surfaces.
It's important to keep the eggs in a moist, but not wet environment. Never
keep these eggs under water (this will drown the embryos)!
Keep the temperature between 18 and 28°C (65-82°F). The higher the temperature,
the faster the snails will hatch.
Note!: Not all apple snails from the genus Pomacea lay their eggs above the waterline in a clutch. Pomacea urceus lays about 50 to 200 orange eggs at the inside of the shell near the aperture. The eggs are brooded in this incubation chamber, closed off with the mother's operculum (shell-door), while the snail aestivates in the dry mud during the dry season. The young snails hatch during this period and crawl around under the female's shell until the rainy season starts. A side effect of this reproduction method is visible as eggscars on the mother's shell at the place where the eggs were attached.
In the picture section there are more pictures of apple snail eggs.
Egg clutch, dried out before the little snails left (Pomacea diffusa).
Aquatic eggs in gelatinous mass, Marisa cornuarietis, 2 days old.
Species that lay their eggs under the waterline
(genera: Asolene (Asolene),
The eggs are embedded in a transparent gelatinous mass and are relatively small when they are laid, but take up a lot of water within the first days and swell significantly (from 3 mm to 6 mm). The need for temperatures between 18 and 28°C (65-82°F) applies to these eggs as well. Obviously these eggs should stay below the surface!
Interesting in these snails is that one can follow the development of the little snails inside the eggs (also see the 'embryology' section).
Interactive 3D-models (Java):
After 2-4 weeks (depending on the species and the temperature, 14 days at 25°C
in the case of Pomacea canaliculata)
the first little snails should appear. If they don't after 3 weeks, you can
try to help the young snails. It might seem rude, but it works: just break the
clutch in 2 - 3 parts and those in the water. You can even wash the snail out
of the clutch by moving the broken clutch parts through the water. Note that
this isn't neecessary when the moisture of the air is sufficient.
If you don't see little snails after breaking a 4 weeks old clutch, it can be that the eggs aren't fertilised or that the air moisture was too low. In the latter case the yolk is very thick or the eggs are completely dried out and filled with air. You might want to wait until the snails appear on the natural way (it can take several days before they all are hatched), but keep in mind that if the clutch isn't kept moist enough, the young snails won't be able to make their way out and subsequently die.
Many young snails might die within the first weeks of their existence, but
those who survive grow quickly. At a size of 2.5 cm /1 inch (2-5 months) in
case of Pomacea canaliculata
and Pomacea diffusa,
they are able to reproduce and the next generation will appear if you don't
remove their eggs in time.
From the day they hatch, the young snails eat the same as their parents, so there is no need for special babysnail-food. Keep in mind, however, that it's often difficult for a young snail to obtain enough food in a completely clean tank. The long distances they need to walk in such case to reach the food could simply be too much. As a result of this, it's often easier to raise little apple snails in a tank with algae on the walls so the little snails have enough food (algae) without traveling all around.
The young apple snails can stay in the same aquarium together with their parents without being eaten by them as long as there is enough food available. However, larger fish with preference for (little) snails can be a reason to keep the young ones in a separated aquarium until they have grown somewhat bigger.
If one plans to transfer the little snail to a separate tank, be sure that their new environment is already a somewhat stable eco-system. In other words: put 1/3 water from a pond or another aquarium with 2/3 fresh water and let the new tank stand for 2-3 weeks with vegetation, without other inhabitants before adding little snails. Such approach certainly increases the success rate with raising young snails.
And last, but not least: algae and debris might not be appealing to the human eye, however it's certainly appreciated by the little snails.
||Note the red
intestines of these young snails. This is caused by the reddish, carotene-rich
yolk they have lived on when they were growing
inside the eggs.
Pomacea diffusa snails don't have such a red body when they are born (also see the picture above of hatching Pomacea diffusa snails).
Pomacea canaliculata snail after 5 days. Size about 2.5 mm.
The best way to transport apple snails is put them in a plastic box with moist
synthetic filter cotton or damp paper towels. The snails are better protected
against shell damage during transport this way and as apple snails can stay
out of the water for days to weeks without problems (they are air-breathers
with a shell door), this method is easy and safe. It's important to make some
holes in the lid to provide fresh air when they need to travel for a week or
more. Large apple snails can also be wrapped in newspapers and put in a paper
bag. Transport in a water filled plastic bag is only advised for small snails.
In humid conditions (that you achieve with the method described above), many species can survive for long periods. For example Marisa cornuarietis is known to survive for about 120 days out of the water if the humidity is kept at 80%.
TIP: Have a look at the FAQ to see the most common questions and answers on them.
How old do apple snails get?
How can I see if a have a male or a female apple snail?
How to control the snail reproduction?
Do I need to make a place for my snail to lay her eggs?
Are there fish that eat my apple snails?
How well can an apple snail tolerate (cichlid) salt?
Are chemicals used to treat fish diseases harmful for apple snails?
Do apple snails eat fish or other creatures?
Can I eat my apple snails? And any suggestions how to prepare them?
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