Marine Snail Tank Basics

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Marine Snail Tank Basics

Postby Donya on Tue Nov 20, 2007 1:11 am

A quick summary for reference that I'd meant to post a while ago and forgot about. This is just a quick reference to highlight the difference between fw and sw snail care and should serve as a starting point for research, not an end point. Setting up a marine tank takes many hours of research and reading to do well. I'll add to this over time if I've forgotten any key points and modify things if they ultimately turn out to be too ambiguous or in some way unclear. The descriptions and lists here are both from my own experience and from what I have seen generally recommended by other forums and heard from other experienced saltwater aquarists.

EDIT: caught some copy-paste bloopers and fixed them. Also edited one of my google search recommendations as it wasn't specific enough and appeared to turn up a lot of stuff for plumbers and construction workers rather than marine inverts.

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Marine tank size classification and skill level
Mini (often in the context of "mini-reef"): 30+ gallons / 113L+. Easiest to set up.
Nano: 5-30 gallons / 18-113L. Ok for beginners but less wiggle-room for errors.
Pico: <5 gallons / <18L. The most difficult - bad choice for beginners.

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Bare minimum equipment needed to set up any marine tank
- A sturdy tank or tub. There are marine animals that can crack some tanks used with freshwater (google search "mantis shrimp"). Either go for acrylic, other plastic, or thick glass.
- Powerheads to acheive a sum of 20-30x turnover. Look at the GPH/LPH rating and sum this for all your powerheads. Then divide by your tank size in gallons/liters to find the turnover. If the number is less than 20, you need a faster powerhead. Large tanks need more than one powerhead for better circulation. External, HOTB, or canister filters most likely will not provide enough flow and will act more like smal sump.
- Cured live rock. You can buy this already cured, or cure it yourself (more rock takes more time!). This is the filter for a marine tank.Google search "live rock" for more info and to understand why its important.
- Sponges to cover your powerhead intakes so snails can't get stuck
- A tank light such that you have at least 3W per gallon (important for algae)
- Marine test kits (they must say "marine" or "saltwater") for the following:
-----Ammonia
-----Nitrite
-----Nitrate
-----pH (a digital pH meter is often best for new tanks)
-----kH
-----Calcium if you keep a lot of animals
- If you're keeping a lot of snails, calcium supplements
- Buffering powder or solution
- Access to fresh saltwater from a LFS or salt and a large bucket to mix your own saltwater. Use only sea salt if you mix your own.
- A steady source of RO water (don't know what this is? Google search "reverse osmosis water"). Most LFSs that sell marine animals will sell this by the jug.
- A hydrometer or refractometer
- Carbonate-based subsrate. Aragonite sand is ideal.
- Unless your room temperature is extreemly stable or you are running a coldwater tank, you need a heater.
- You can keep an open-top tank, but most snail tanks require mesh or something over the top unless there's a big gap between waterline and tank rim.

Required extra equipment for a "planted" marine tank (e.g. a tank with lots of macro algae
- A better light than listed above. Aim for 5W per gallon ore more. For reference, I try to get to 8W per gallon for good macro algae growth. Look into metal halide lights if you're serious about growing algae.
- An air pump. This is a safety precaution - some macro algae can dump all of its fluids into the water if an animal damages it badly enough, and the excess organics in the water will quickly suck oxygen out of the water if there isn't a bubbler present.

Required extra equipment for a coldwater marine tank
- Chiller (google search this)

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Saltwater Tank Cycling
This is much like fw cycling, except when cured live rock is used it goes a lot faster. The cycle also has an extra step:

Ammonia --> Nitrite --> Nitrate --> N2 gas

The cycle is "done" when Nitrates fall to around 10. In planted tanks, they should be 0. In non-planted tanks, nitrate readings should be interpreted as follows:

0-5ppm = ideal
5-10ppm = "ok", but not tollerable for sensitive animals
10-20ppm = tollerable for hardier animals, but you need to lower it
20+ppm = lethal conditions. Expect dieoff if it isn't already occuring.

Marine animals are much more sensitive than freshwater animals to these chemicals. Ammonia and nitrite must be 0 for the tank to be habitable.

Marine pH range: 8.0-8.4.

Marine kH should be in the 8-12dkH range.

Marine calcium should be in the ~350-400ppm range.

Marine sG (don't know what this is? Google search "specific gravity") in tropical tanks should be 21-28 with the ideal range for most snails being around 25-27. Understand how temperature affects sg and compensate accordingly for coldwater tanks.

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Setting up a marine tank step-by-step
- Tank needs to be in a stable location
- Fill with saltwater,
- Hook up all electric equipment and let the tank run for a few days
- Watch the temperature closely and be ready to make adjustments if it exceeds tollerable ranges
- Once temperature is stable, add LR (stack carefully!)
- add substrate
- Wait until pH stabilizes and the cycle is complete (may be <1 week)
- Add the "cleanup crew"
- Wait at least couple of weeks for diatoms/algae/etc. to be under control before adding anything else.

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What to expect in maintenance
Daily:
- in nano tanks, topoff with RO to maintain sg. Larger tanks may require less frequent topoffs.
- in new tanks, check pH, sg, and nitrates.
- feed the animals :-P

Each week:
- 10% water change
- in established tanks, check pH, sg, and nitrates
- inspect rockwork for problems
- in planted tanks, may need to prune macro algae growth

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What's a "cleanup crew?"
Marine tanks need maintenance. It's easier to set up a stable ecosystem that maintains itself than to do it all yourself - and it's more reliable to let the ecology handle itself. Google search "marine cleanup crew" without the quotes and you'll find lots of info. However, take a look at the "what animals to avoid" section to make sure you don't get mislead in your selection of cleaner animals. Not all cleaner animals do well in snail tanks.

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Some good starter marine snails (I won't address other animals here!)
- Turbo fluctuosa/fluctuosus: hardy, strong competator. Requires suppelemental feeding in most tanks.
- Trochus species: same as T. flucts
- Nassarius: burrowing, good substrait-maintainers. Omnivorous, but like their meaty foods.
- Cerith species: like Nassarius but don't require the same meaty foods.

Intermediate-difficulty snails
- Turbo undulatus ("zebra turbo")
- Astrea species
- Margarita snails (most are coldwater!)

Snails you shouldn't get unless you've done your research and think you're ready to tell us all about them before you buy them
- Conches
- Cowries (watch the diet! Most aren't strict herbivores)
- Anything that you can't easily identify in the pet store

Gastropods you should never get unless you set up a tank specifically for them and have a lot of experience - most people should NEVER get these:
- Any opisthobranch
- Various strictly carnivorous or predatory snails

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Animals to avoid in a snail tank
- zebra hermit crabs
- large hermit crabs that grow past ~1/2"
- most starfish
- most urchins
- sea cucumbers
- nudibranchs
- most anemones (most people should avoid these anyway!)
- true crabs, even if supposedly "herbivorous"
- wrasses
- any fish with a beak
- any aggressive fish
- any large carnivorous fish
- bumblebee snails - they are predatory and will eat smaller snails

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Animals that often get into marine tanks whether you like it or not (Don't know why this is? Google search "live rock")
- bristleworms: great cleaners, but NEVER touch them bare handed unless you love the feeling of fiberglass shards in your hand
- other various harmless worms
- encrusting worms and fanworms
- encrusting algae
- sponges
- tunicates
- Asterina starfish (generally harmless)
- Aiptasia anemones...often require some form of manual control
- Other pest anemones, again often requiring some form of manual control

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Animals that often get into marine tanks whether you like it or not that you should get rid of ASAP unless the tank was built for them
- mantis shrimp
- various "hairy" crabs
- nudibranchs
- Hermodice species (google search if you aren't familiar with the name)

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Supplemental foods for herbivorous marine snails
- Nori
- other dried seaweeds

Supplemental foods for omnivorous or carnivorous marine snails
- shrimp meat
- other prepared marine foods for fish

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Some closing remarks...
- Some bristleworms have a disturbing affinity for hands. Expect rash if you let them get cuddly.
- Some bristleworms have a disturbing taste for hands. Expect a worse rash if you let them get cuddly.
- Cute things often sting.
- Small things that don't look like they should be able to often sting.
- Brightly colored stuff often stings or bites, or both.
- Beware the conch that looks at you with an evil eye and seems to be preparing to wedge its sharp operculum under your fingernail. It will.
- Don't let a Turbo snail on your hand that you don't want to be on it for a while.
- Calcareous sponges hurt.
- Sharp things are sharp. Even snail shells and rocks that don't look like they should be.
- Electricity + saltwater = bad
Last edited by Donya on Sat Nov 24, 2007 2:05 am, edited 3 times in total.
"That's not a snail...it's a water goat!"--In loving memory of Eatith
http://pantheon.yale.edu/~dvq2/ - My Research
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Postby Blötdjur on Wed Nov 21, 2007 11:26 pm

SOWLR (Snail Only With Live Rock) saltwater tanks are great! :-)

Thanks for your work in this area!
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Postby jonfr on Thu Nov 22, 2007 7:45 pm

For those of us using liter measurement.

Pico: <18 liters.
Nano: 18 - 113 liters.
Mini: 113+ liters.

My tank is 96 liters and appears to be doing good. Has a lot of algea in it at the moment. The live rock appears to be good.
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Postby Donya on Thu Nov 22, 2007 8:10 pm

For those of us using liter measurement.

Pico: <18 liters.
Nano: 18 - 113 liters.
Mini: 113+ liters.


Thanks for those! I added those into the list (I should have thought to do the conversions - sorry for that).


SOWLR (Snail Only With Live Rock) saltwater tanks are great!


I think they're also really the best first step for people interested in marine tanks. SOWLR (I love that term :D ) tanks bypass a lot of the things that create problems for people who try to set up a FOWLR tank first, since there is less waste produced in the tank.
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Postby Blötdjur on Fri Nov 23, 2007 3:10 am

jonfr wrote:My tank is 96 liters and appears to be doing good. Has a lot of algea in it at the moment. The live rock appears to be good.

I'm still interested in seeing it even though it has a lot of algae :-)
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Postby Pollux on Fri Nov 23, 2007 11:58 am

me too :D
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Postby Blötdjur on Fri Nov 23, 2007 3:44 pm

For people wondering about costs it might be interesting to know that some test kits work for both freshwater and saltwater.
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Postby Donya on Sat Nov 24, 2007 2:11 am

Good point about the test kits Blötdjur - indeed, most of my test kits work as both a freshwater and saltwater kit.
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