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Freshwater Snail Care Sheet

Includes mystery, inca, apple, nerite and rabbit snail species

The unique characteristics and wide variety of freshwater snails provide an appealing addition to your aquarium. Freshwater snails feed on nuisance algae and are great for helping to keep your aquarium clean.

Freshwater Snails Caresheet

Table of Contents

Typical freshwater snail appearance and behavior

Snails have a large, muscular foot that they use to move around and can retract back into their shells. They leave a slime trail as they move on their muscular foot. Snails also have a head and a large shell. The opening to a snail’s shell is covered by a flap called an operculum that can close as a defense mechanism and to prevent their body from drying out. Many snails are hermaphrodites (have both male and female reproductive organs), so they are able to reproduce very quickly and can overwhelm an aquarium fast, in just a few weeks. Nerite snails, however, are not hermaphroditic snails, so males and females are separate. They will not reproduce in freshwater, as their offspring need minerals from saltwater to build their shells. This feature makes Nerite snails ideal pets, as they are incapable of overpopulating a freshwater aquarium. 

Snails are most active at night and may remain very still during the day. To tell whether a snail is alive, gently touch the operculum; if the snail retracts, it is alive. Dead snails will hang out of their shells when moved and will emit a foul odor.


Care Difficulty Intermediate
Average Life Span Up to 2-3 years depending on species
Average Adult Size 1-5 inches depending on species
Diet Omnivore
Minimum Habitat Size 5+ gallons, depending on species. Generally, no more than 1-2 snails per 5 gallons.
Water Temperature 65-82°F
pH Level 7.0-8.0


Habitat size

Keep in an appropriate size aquarium (5+ gallons), without too many snails per gallon of water to prevent overcrowding and ensure there is adequate food (no more than 1-2 snails per 5 gallons habitat).

Building your habitat

Keep the water level in the aquarium ½ inch below the top of your aquarium to allow snails to breathe. Be sure to have a tight-fitting lid, as snails can climb out of the aquarium easily. Snails may be housed in a community aquarium with fish and other organisms but should not be kept with aggressive aquarium mates such as crayfish and crabs who may attack them. Snails are ectotherms, meaning their body temperature changes in response to changes in the temperature of their environments. Thus, it is essential that aquarium temperatures be kept constant. Rapid temperature changes can stress snails and make them susceptible to disease. The aquarium should not be kept in direct sunlight, as this will raise the aquarium temperature significantly during the day and lower it when the light goes away at night. It is not unusual for snails newly added to an aquarium to not move for the first 2-3 days.

Ideally, a filtration system should be used to keep the aquarium clean. If there is no filter, water changes of 25% should be performed weekly using dechlorinated tap water or bottled spring water that is at the same temperature as the aquarium water. Leaving the freshwater out overnight to come to room temperature before adding it to the aquarium helps ensure the aquarium temperature is kept constant. Snails are very sensitive to high copper levels in water, so if you are adding tap water to the aquarium, especially if you have copper pipes, you should monitor its copper content with a simple aquarium test kit. If copper levels in your tap water are high, consider using bottled spring water for water changes. Water should be changed any time it becomes cloudy or foul-smelling; if this happens, the aquarium should be checked for dead snails and fish.

Snails need calcium to grow their shells and don't like soft water (water containing few minerals). If your water is soft, you can increase the snails’ uptake of calcium by feeding them calcium-rich vegetables or calcium supplements or by floating a cuttlebone in the water.

Stable water quality to include pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and water temperature are critical to the health of your aquatic life. If you are unsure of your water quality, bring a sample to Petco for free testing.


What Do Freshwater Snails Eat

Snails who are living in a community aquarium with fish and plants do not need to be fed separately. They will eat algae and leftover fish food. Overfeeding the fish in the aquarium can dramatically increase the snail population, so be sure not to overfeed. Be sure that the fish food being fed does not contain copper or copper sulfate that can be fatal to snails. If snails are feeding off plants in the aquarium, they can be supplemented with algae disks or small amounts of sliced vegetables such as cucumber, carrot, kale or zucchini, but all uneaten vegetables should be removed before they become moldy or disintegrate. 

How often to feed freshwater snails

  • If there is not enough algae or plants in the aquarium for snails to survive, and they must be supplemented, feed daily or twice weekly, depending on the species

Freshwater snail care

  • Daily - Check filter, water temperature and other equipment
  • Weekly - Test water quality at least once a week
  • Weekly to monthly, depending on whether an aquarium filter is present - Change 10-25% of the total volume of water as needed (more frequently if no filter)
  • Introduce new inhabitants to the aquarium gradually
  • Use of copper-based medications can be toxic to invertebrates   

Where to buy

Freshwater snails are available at Petco online and in stores. If purchasing in store, contact your local location ahead of time to check on availability.

Aquarium mates

Compatible with most docile freshwater fish (such as guppies, platies, mollies, swordtails and tetras). Do not keep with aggressive fish who may try to eat snails. For specific questions, visit your local Petco to talk to an aquatics specialist about your aquarium’s inhabitants.


Signs of a healthy snail

  • Active movement
  • Healthy appetite
  • Even coloring
  • Clean in appearance

Red flags

  • Loss of color or appetite
  • Spots or fungus on body or mouth
  • Listlessness
  • Retreats into shell most of time
  • Falls out of shell when picked up
  • Emits foul odor

Common health issues

Little is known about diseases that affect invertebrates. As long as environmental conditions and food supplies are adequate, invertebrates are fairly resistant to disease.


  • What do freshwater snails eat? Freshwater snails eat algae and excess fish food in the aquarium.
  • How long do aquarium snails live? Aquarium snails live, on average, 3-10 years, depending on their species and the water quality of the aquarium.
  • How can I tell if an aquarium snail is alive? To tell whether a snail is alive, gently touch the operculum; if the snail retracts, it is alive. Dead snails will hang out of their shells when moved and will emit a foul odor.
  • Do fish eat aquarium snails? Some species of fish, including loaches, betta fish and gouramis, may eat snails. Only house freshwater snails with docile fish who can coexist with your pet snail.

Additional care sheets

Notes and sources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all aquatic life are potential carriers of infectious diseases such as mycobacteria and salmonella that can infect people, always wash your hands before and after handling your aquatic life and/or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of diseases.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physician before purchasing and/or caring for aquatic life and should consider having a pet other than aquatic life.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at for more information about aquatic life and disease.

Note: The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian.

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.