The Salty Side: Saltwater Aquariums for Beginners

How many snails should I have in my saltwater tank?

How many snails should I have in a saltwater tank?

I’ve seen many questions being asked about how many snails to keep in a saltwater aquarium.  Snails make your life easier!  They make up part of the clean up crew that feed on algae and detritus in your tank.  These gastropods get into all the nooks and crannies that fish and other algae eaters aren’t able to reach.  Another advantage is that snails are able to clean the glass on the side of the aquarium.  You won’t see hermit crabs or shrimps doing that!

There appears to be no concrete information on how many snails you should have in your saltwater tank.  However, the general suggestion that 1 snail per 19 – 38 litres (5 – 10 gallons) is sufficient. 

You may want to get more snails in a tank with a large amount of rock as opposed to a tank with a small amount of rock.  The reason for this is that the rock creates a larger surface area for algae to grow. 

Unfortunately, if there are too many snails, once their job of eating algae has been completed, (which they do very well!) then there will be nothing left for them to eat and they will starve to death. 

A sensible approach would be to buy the minimum amount of snails and if you find that there is still too much algae, detritus etc., then add more.  This is will not only save snails from unnecessary death but your wallet too. 

Should I get snails for my saltwater aquarium?

Yes, I would definitely recommend getting snails for your saltwater aquarium.  By having a saltwater tank you are trying to replicate the ocean by providing a similar environment for your fish and corals.  If you don’t include the invertebrates, the clean up crew, that help keep the natural environment free from algae and detritus then you’d be making life harder for yourself.  It would create more work and effort to try and keep on top of creating a successful habitat for your fish and coral than simply adding a few snails and/or shrimps. 

If detritus (fish waste, leftover/uneaten fish food) is left to accumulate, it would cause a spike in nutrient levels.  No one wants high levels of ammonia and/or algae blooms in their tank, least of all the inhabitants! 

Nassarius Snail Saltwater Aquarium Clean Up Crew

Cleaning aside, it can be very interesting keeping snails and other invertebrates.  Seeing how their shells grow or how a Cowri’s membrane covers it’s entire shell really is quite amazing.  My personal favourites are Nassarius snails.  They’re not called Zombie snails for nothing!  They have their ‘trunks’ sticking out the sand and only emerge when they smell food.  They certainly don’t hang around and are surely one of the fastest snails I’ve seen. 

NOTE:  Please remember that invertebrates such as snails need to be drip acclimated (acclimatised).  They are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment.   

What are the best saltwater aquarium snails for my tank?

Combined with these clean up crew members, the following snails will help to keep detritus and algae levels in your tank under control. 


Turbo (Cyprea Tigiris) – Algae, particularly green, macro and film algae

Astrea Turbo (Astraea tecta) – Algae, particularly hair algae, cyanobacteria, diatoms 

Mexican Turbo (Turbo fluctuosa) – Algae, particularly hair algae

Trochus (Trochus sp.) – Algae, particularly film algae, cyanobacteria and diatoms

Nerite (Nerita sp.) – Algae, particularly film algae, cyanobacteria and diatoms


Nassarius (Nassarius sp.) – Detritus


Conch (Strombus sp.) – Detritus, algae

Bumblebee (Engina sp.) – Detritus, algae, pest worms such as vermetid snails and bristle worms (polychaetes)

Cerith (Cerithium sp.) – Detritus, algae, including film and hair algae, diatoms and cyanobacteria 

Cowrie (Cypraea sp.) – Detritus, algae, diatoms AND OCCASIONALLY SOFT CORAL!!!


NOTE:  Snails and invertebrates are particularly sensitive to medications containing copper and to high nitrate levels. 

Saltwater Aquarium Snails

Which Saltwater Snail?

Are snails good for your fish tank?

They certainly are!  Snails do a good job keeping algae at bay, clearing up leftover food and cleaning up after the fish themselves (fish poo).  Different snails prefer different types of algae so if you have an abundance of a particular algae in your saltwater tank then it may be worth choosing the right snail to help reduce it. 

A couple of points to remember is that Mexican snails are rather large and tend to move or knock over smaller rocks and coral that aren’t secured well enough. 

Some snails end up falling over and are left vulnerable to certain fish, such as wrasse, and hermit crabs.  Hermit crabs are well known for killing snails in order to take their shells. 

Which saltwater snails can right themselves?

Again I think it is worth mentioning that snails, and other saltwater invertebrates, need to be acclimatised (acclimated) before adding them do the tank.  They are very sensitive to fluctuations in pH, kH (Alkalinity) and temperature.

If you would like to know more about this, then take a look on this article on How to Drip Acclimate Snails and Invertebrates.

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