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Mystery Snails in Trouble


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Hey everyone,


Here is the situation. This tank is well established and almost a year old. It is a well planted 20 gallon high. There are 9 harelquins, 10 ghost shrimp, a couple crydoras, and this couple of mystery snails. Nothing weird has gone on with the tank lately.

pH was about 6.7ish. That being too low was my first thought. More on that in a minute. 

Nitrates about 10

Hardness is 150 to 200

KH is 100 to 120

No temp problems.

So 2 days ago I found the snails floating at the top of the tank looking out of control. I looked this up online and the main consensus was that this happens and don't freak out. The next day they seemed better, but less active than usual. This morning it got worse and I saw one hiding and moving and twitching like there was discomfort. I tested the water as above and decided that it had been too long since I put a media bag of crushed coral into my HOB. So I did this and the pH came up to a better 7.2 or so. I was hoping to see some relief but nothing is happening. They have had the trap doors shut all day. There are no other signs of trouble in this tank.


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You never know! Some people don't have a way to test ammonia as it is usually something you have to buy separately when using strips (if you use them). I think you're good unless someone else has an insight. I've had them react badly to something and recover. Hopefully yours are just taking a rest from it, you may see some shell damage later from the event. 🤞

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Yes ph is to low it will cause she’ll erosion. The info of don’t freak out is correct however they do not “just do this for no reason” that part is incorrect. In nature snails close up and float as a relocation method when water conditions are unsuitable for them. Ie pollution etc. They may also do this if they are alone and can find no mate. As there are 2 in your tank this is not an issue because if 2 boys they will still attempt mating and that curbs the need from my experience (though I could be wrong but my fraternity males do not do this). Have you tested for copper? Do you use fertilizer with copper it may have added more than they can handle. Do you do regular water changes as depletion of essential minerals etc they need may be an issue. Have you used any meds or no planarian etc? Interestingly enough @dasaltemelosguy Just posted this at the end of his thread about hyper oxidation assisting snails with potential overdoses in medication. I can’t see that it would hurt to try and help them out. 


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Okay. Now we are getting somewhere I think. This tank has a lot of plants. In fact, its purpose is to grow as many plants as possible so I can then cut them and use them in other tanks. I was able to get it seasoned because there is several pounds of lava rock in the bottom. I run CO2 into it right up into the sponge on the HOB. I rigged it with a piece of PVC so that it makes a big 2 inch CO2 bubble on the bottom of the sponge that is ever-present. 

To counter act this I run Co-Op sponge filter with a Ziss stone inside. I came home to the fish trying to breathe air off the top one day, and I have run air in ever since. 

But because I run CO2 with yeast, my output is never consistent. Winter is making it worse with temp fluctuations. So to control pH I put a lot of crushed coral in the HOB. This does a great job, but it looks like the pH got down to 6.7ish or so. It is the lowest it has been in a while and I noticed for some inexplicable reason that even though it is about 12 degrees F outside this bottle of CO2 is killing it and outputting like mad.

So the CO2 is the only thing I could think of. I keep a bucket in the basement for water changes. I keep a heater and a stone going at all times in it. So I figured I would put them in that bucket for a while. But I tested the pH and it was worse than my tank water. It was 6.6 or maybe lower. There is a reason I put crushed coral in my water here. I couldn't get anything done if I didn't. 

So I wonder if a dip in pH made them want to pull up shop and head downstream. That makes a lot of sense. pH is fixed, and all the numbers are perfect now, but a water change wouldn't hurt. Well, except that is almost guaranteed to lower my pH which is why I do that carefully. 

The other thing you mentioned was copper. I have one set of test strips that have places for copper and iron. Iron is always zero, but copper was coming in at 0.5 ppm or so during testing. That's a little higher than it has been. 

It's a little late tonight, but I could change the water tomorrow. I'll just make sure there is some more coral in the HOB first. 

I could set up a quarantine tank downstairs, put coral in it to get the pH up a bit and then move them there for a bit if they still look bad tomorrow? At least that would isolate the problem. Give me time to do a water change and get the pH right in there before putting them back in anyway.

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Oh, I started talking about plants to tell you they aren't starving. Lots of plants with dead stuff to eat. Plenty of algae growing on a few places. Occasionally as a treat I give them a broken up wafer. No one is starving in there. Most likely part of my algae problem. Bladder snails used to reproduce in this tank like it was the thunderdome, but their numbers have decreased recently come to think of it.

The fish are fed a small measured mix of crushed veg flake, crushed krill extreme, fluval bug bites all mixed together.

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On 1/25/2022 at 8:17 PM, Buckman said:

Bladder snails used to reproduce in this tank like it was the thunderdome, but their numbers have decreased recently come to think of it.

That happens with a lack of food, or water toxicity, or a snail predator. Unless you put an assassin snail in there, it's either lack of food or toxicity.

CO2 can lower pH. I don't run CO2, so I will leave the specifics of gas chemistry to someone else. 

What you can control is the water currently in the tank, and how to prep your water before it gets to the tank.  A 20 gallon is a lot easier to prep for than a 40b or larger.

If you can get a rolling traah can on wheels, and keep that filled in preparation for water changes, it's much easier. Fill your reservoir (the rolling trash can), drop in a mesh bag of crushed coral, an airstone, and if needed a heater. Treat the water with Prime.

You should always have this full, so you have water on demand.

To fill your tank[s], drop a pond pump into the reservoir, and pump water into the tank[s].

What are your TDS, GH & KH? Do you keep a wondershell in the tank for snails/shrimp?

Check your wafers, I recently discovered that one of my staple foods has changed formula and the wafers now have copper. Nothing worse than thinking I was feeding a high quality diet, and in reality I was slowly poisoning my shell friends...

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So new lesson learned. That advice is good. I am actually doing similar water prep without the crushed coral. You actually described exactly what I do to condition water except for the coral. But I didn't want to do that in a bucket. I am actually about to set up another small shelf stack that is only for conditioning water and quarantine. I was thinking of conditioning water in a 10 gallon quarantine tank which would give me more water and extra options like a HOB with crushed coral etc. If I need water for a change it goes from the tank into the bucket. If I need a quarantine tank, fish go in and I fill the bucket and start conditioning in there.

But problem number two has to do with measuring pH. Lesson learned. Test strips suck at this. It is way too far off for my taste.20220126_095707.jpg.f169f610ea0c55abb6772eb097533624.jpg

It may be a bit hard to see here, but the strips have the pH down around 6.7 or there abouts. But, I used to do a lot of brewing and I actually have decent pH meters. So I dusted one off, calibrated it, tested in on distilled water, and took a real reading.


7.4 is where it actually stabilized but I saw as high as 8.2 while it was getting there. I have another brand of test strips showing false lows as well.

So the pH was not that had all along probably. 

Snail update. The blue one is on the move. Can't locate him currently. The orange one has moved about an inch. I am working at home...and wasting time right now...but everyone needs breaks, right? Fish break! Anyway, water changed is coming later.

This pH meter is staying out though. I am going to incorporate it into my practices now.

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After 25% water change...

Test strips showing pH at 6.8.

Good pH meter showing pH of 7.6

Water is still hard and good for invertebrates.

Even after the water change the nitrates are still at about 20 ppm. That's starting to get annoying. I stop squirting Easy Green in there on Friday last week. Considering doing another LARGE water change this weekend and going back to Seachem at a bit higher dose than I used to give. If I have learned anything with Easy Green it is that it is doable to ratchet up the plant growing power of a tank. But once that train leaves the station it is hard to put the breaks on. I just don't need explosive growth and nitrates of 50 that never go away. 

Snails are not happy still. They are both alive and have moved. But not much. I might pull them out, put them in quarantine tonight, and then seriously work on the water in this tank this weekend.

New theory...I found shrimp chunks. Someone is eating shrimp. The only thing that could pull that off are the snails. I don't see harlequins or corydoras taking one down. I have seen both these snails do violence to bladder snails. So are the snails starving? There are plenty if plants that need pruning, about 3 kinds of algae now that my nitrates are permanently up. I have been careful feeding the tank lately because there were so many bladder snails. This worked. The population decreased. But maybe these mystery snails don't get enough to eat now, ate something they are really not used to, and now feel like crap? If the pH is fine that is the only thing I can think of. If they eat wafers in quarantine and start improving right away that ought to settle it. Right?


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On 1/26/2022 at 2:04 PM, Buckman said:

So are the snails starving?

To give o an example mine eat a half a blanched green bean split longways down the middle or other equivalent veggie plus 1/2 a wafer every day and still chow down on leftover food. Mystery snails are actually not great algae eaters. 

If the bladder snails are dying back from starvation your mystery snails most likely are not getting enough either because bladders are good algae eaters. 

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Well that's my problem. I feel bad having starved my guys too much. But I was also scolded by someone who was gr telling me I had far too many bladder snails because I was over feeding my tank. I took that to heart and started measuring very exact amounts. Well now I have more algae than ever...but I think that is an ongoing unrelated fertilizer problem. To be honest the snails don't like algae wafers much. They will chow down on occasion but also mow right over them without a thought.

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On 1/26/2022 at 12:24 PM, Buckman said:

Well that's my problem. I feel bad having starved my guys too much. But I was also scolded by someone who was gr telling me I had far too many bladder snails because I was over feeding my tank. I took that to heart

Your heart was in the right place, and you made the best decisions you could with the information you had available. 

I answered someone else who was raising platies, how I determine homeostasis, and that I feed my plants with fish food like Cory does.

Our aquarium is a closed system. Creatures will reproduce as long as they have food to eat. More food = more reproduction. Starving them to lower the population will affect everything in the tank. Feeding less can reduce the reproductive values, but if animal population or plant population is decreasing, then the entire tank is impacted and something is out of balance. 

If your fish are not munching on snail eggs, then another snail predator needs to be added to the tank: yoyos, endlers, some guppies, pea puffers and assassin snails are all known to keep snail populations in check.

A tank has reached homeostasis when the pH is stable, nitrates stay below 20 ppm (without the water change), and there's no ammonia or nitrites.

I agree with eatyourpeas, if shrimp are also showing a problem, I would start looking for copper. Do you know if the pipes in your house might have copper in them? If they do, each water change may be slowly poisoning snails and shrimp. 

While all animals need some amount of copper (Cu) for blood cell production and function, inverts have the narrowest tolerance level. They need the micronutrient in micro levels, and a tiny bit above that micro level is uncomfortable. A tiny bit above that is lethal.

So snails pulling up their trap door combined with dead snails, says something in the water is not comfortable to your inverts. They are depending on you to be a sleuth and identify what is out of balance, and why.

Do you have a water municipality that will test your water for you?

There may have been repairs done, or there's a possibility of a line supply incident (fracking near my residence resulted in microfractures in the waterlines, and eventually led to contaminated water, for example).

Obviously, your animals are more sensitive than you are, as they are smaller. Something is out of balance. 

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Well, my shrimp look better than ever. The only problem they have is someone is doing violence to them. I have seen shrimp chunks lately. I thought perhaps the snails were resorting to shrimp eating. I have never seen it, but the snails are the only violent thing in the tank. I have seen them take out bladder snails and swallow small ones whole.

The betta won't put up with snail eggs. Once the lights come on, all eggs in that tank have about 10 minutes to hatch or they die. She will even just do damage to the ones she can't eat. Nothing is hatching in this tank if she is there.

So lets return to copper.

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Okay. Testing is done. I have one set of strips that tests copper and iron. iron is always zero.

i am the plumber in this house. And yes, there is copper pipe everywhere. I tested the tank just now and it is where it usually is on copper. The color does show a bit, but it is still lighter in tone than the first marker which they gave as 0.5 ppm. I would say this color looks like 0,2 or 0.3. I did a water change yesterday after I did, I filled up my bucket and started conditioning the water, So that seemed like a good baseline tap test that has sat for 24 hours. It tested the same.

I tested for copper when I started having snail trouble and it looked more like it had hit a true 0.5. But these are readings I have seen since the beginning. And as I say, the shrimp look healthier than even. When I started using crushed coral a few months ago, everything got good. The ghost shrimp started growing parts I never knew they had. There antennae looked more like an impressive array of instrumentation and they were much more active. They are still doing awesome except for becoming a last resort food source for someone in the tank.

So I am feeding the tank a bit more. The snails are still hunkered down, but move occasionally. They refuse algae wafers. I tried some carrot and they have ignored it all night. pH is looking good in the high 7s for a couple days now. It may not have been low to begin with.

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On 1/25/2022 at 5:23 PM, xXInkedPhoenixX said:

Unfortunately there's not much regarding treatment of sick snails. I'd give them time to recover and they may be ok. The pH was very likely the culprit. 

Who knows though, someone here might have an idea. @Guppysnailuses Seachem Equilibrium if I remember correctly...

Zero ammonia??

I believe mystery snails do better around a pH of 8, which may explain why the crushed coral worked well a few months ago.

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So much has happened since I posted about this. All of this was good advice. But in the end I found out I have chloramine in my tap water.

So, I have been keeping fish (this time around) for about a year. Previous attempts at fish keeping usually involved only one betta and some guilt that I was keeping it in a small tank. I always knew the water here to not have much chlorine in it at all. And when I got my betta that started this much bigger attempt at this hobby, the in-the-know guy at my local fish shop gave me an entire lecture about our water here. "We have tons of limestone around here. The water right out of the tap is great for shrimp." It's not. Out of the original shrimp I got, one survives. I have always heard @Cory say things like, "It's hard to get shrimp to be successful in a tank less than 6 months old." So I didn't kick myself too much. I started working on making the water even harder and making sure CO2 didn't make my water too acidic. Recently I started having the problems I described above. I'll explain exactly what happened in a minute.

And I have heard that advice time and time again in this area. "The water is almost perfect right out of the tap. you just have to use a little dechlorinator." I have to admit, I don't have notice that the belong to a fish club. But that is the advice I have been getting from the kind of local mom and pop stores that someone like me should want to take advice from. If the water company is putting chloramine into the water, you would think that there would be a flyer about it at every fish store. I have never even heard it mentioned. However, there it is on the company's website for all to see.

So I feel l dumb. Get this. I have even worried about this situation because we consider moving every now and then. What would I do if I moved to a place with chloramine? How would I pull that off? I am answering this sooner rather than later.

Why did I not notice this sooner? That's a good question. On the first day I lost a fish, a snail, and some shriimp. I always felt dumb about that, but it never happened again so I chalked it up to inexperience, I have lost nothing after that first day up until this current problem. Ever since I started keeping this tank I have been conditioning the water I use for changes. I fill a bucket downstairs with a heater, an airstone and a pump. As soon as I do a water change, I fill the thing back up and run it for days until I need it next. So oddly enough, my good practices kept me from getting hurt by this sooner.

But here is where it broke down. Recently winter has set in for real here. I have a house that is almost 100 years old. I have two heaters in each tank to guard from fluctuation. When I do water changes, I use water that has been conditioned. I also have a water jug for top offs. It is a glass gallon jug that is ever present near these two fish tanks. It is also my habit to keep this full and handy for a couple days. Again, that might condition it, and keep it safe. Probably usually did. But lately it has been cold on the floor. I have one of those Fluval temp strips on the side of the top off jog. It's been in the 60's. So for the last couple weeks I got into the habit of keeping it empty, putting dechlorinator in it, going to the tap and running a mix of hot and cold into it to get around 79 degrees, and dumping it in the tank. And it has been cold and the furnace has been running non-stop. The tank evaporated more than ever before. I wound up pouring a gallon of water with ammonia in it all at once into the tank. That's when the snails finally said enough of this, and floated to the top of the tank trying to head downstream. Every water top off since then has dumped more ammonia into the tank. Never knew it. I found out when I finally went nuclear with water testing and started getting 0.5 ppm ammonia from recent tap water that had been dechlorinated. To me forever to figure out.

So...this has been frustrating. Things I learned over the past couple of days: It takes about 24 hours to get the ammonia out of dechlorinated water if using an air stone. It takes at least 48 if you don't have an airstone, maybe more. Jury is still out on that one. If I borrow a pot of ludwigia from my aquarium, put that in a five gallon bucket, and run tap water into it, I can use that tap water in 4 hours. If speeding this up with plants is an option I will probably stop destroying water lettuce when I have too much of it and start employing it in water conditioning down in the basement.

The only real reading (or watching) I have done about this subject is the guy in San Francisco who does not change for this very reason. @Cory and Dean have made a few videos about this place. Search Youtube for "San Francisco no water changes." But that has him with a low pH, soft water, and low flow. It's literally the opposite of what I do in every way. I'll never get N3 to turn into N4 by itself in my tanks.

If anyone has some experience with this problem feel free to chime in. If I learn anything useful I'll report back.


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