The term ramshorn snail in the aquarium trade actually encompasses two families of snails, and while most come from the Planorbidae family, there are also some from the Ampullariidae family. Because they share very common traits, most aquarists are comfortable classifying them under the broad name ‘ramshorn snail’.
They can come in several different colors, and their shells range from a shimmery translucent color, to red, brown and nearly black. Red shelled ramshorn snails were once very common in the aquarium trade, but they seem to have been mostly replaced by brown shelled snails in recent years.
Unlike many other snails, ramshorn snails do not breathe through gills. They have an organ that is referred to as a snail’s lung, which allows them to trap air in their shell and breathe underwater. Because they require air, they will often climb to the surface of the aquarium, or simply float up to refresh their air supply.
It’s very important to avoid any ramshorn snails raised in the wild. It it has been reported that if they are raised in a pond, they may carry parasitic flukes that can affect both humans and fish. If you do decide to add some outdoor snails to your aquarium, they should first be kept in quarantine for a least a month away from any fish. Since the flukes require an intermediary to breed, they should be parasite free after about a month.
Unfortunately, many people’s first experience with ramshorns snails is as a pest in their aquarium. They often hitchhike into a fish tank on live plants, or on aquarium accessories that are transferred from tank to tank.
If there is an abundant supply of food in the aquarium, they can quickly breed out of control. For ideas on how to control the snail population in your aquarium, you can read the Aquarium Tidings article, How to Control Aquarium Snails.
However, if the population is managed, they are excellent aquarium cleaners. They will consume dead plant matter, uneaten food, and algae in the aquarium.
Ramshorn snails will thrive in nearly any size aquarium that can comfortably house fish. Since almost no one ever sets up a tank specifically for these snails, there isn’t really a recommended tank size for them. As long as the aquarium is heated and filtered, it should be sufficient for these snails.
Unlike the more destructive varieties of pest snails, they tend to do little damage to live plants. With that being said, if they exist in sufficient numbers, and their tank contains some of the more delicate plant species (Cabomba, Anarcharis, Water Sprite), you may begin to see some damage to the plant leaves. Some species have also been reported to eat more hardy plants, though it is hard to determine which species to avoid.
If you are actively trying to keep these snails in your aquarium, then you should avoid any fish that prey on snails. Ramshorns are very susceptible to predation, since they don’t breed as fast as pond snails, and can’t hide in the substrate like Malaysian trumpet snails. Most loaches, bettas, dwarf puffer fish, and assassin snails should be avoided if you’re trying to keep ramshorn snails.
It’s not difficult to get ramshorn snails to breed – it’s difficult to get them to stop. If sufficient food is available, they will breed almost continuously. They are hermaphroditic, so any two snails can quickly populate an aquarium. If left to their own devices, they will completely overrun an aquarium.
Ramshorn snails lay eggs in small brownish clusters. Each ball of eggs will contain around ten to twelve eggs, though it tends to vary from snail to snail. If you can spot the tiny egg clusters, you will be able to see the snails develop through the translucent eggs. The eggs will hatch in two to five weeks, and the temperature of the tank influences the incubation time. Newborn snails are mostly white, and will begin to take on color after a few weeks.
Giant Ramshorn Snails
These snails should not be confused with the ramshorn snails discussed in this article. They are a species of apple snails and will grow to very large sizes in an aquarium. They will also prey on the smaller ramshorn snails and can be extremely destructive towards plants.