Nerite Snails: Your New Aquarium Vacuum Cleaner?

Small, colorful, and literal algae eating machines, nerite snails are a common and popular addition to home aquariums. But what, exactly, is so special about these seemingly insignificant snails, and why do tank enthusiasts rave about them so much?

Why don’t we take a deep dive into the nerite snail world and find out?

What is a Nerite Snail?

A nerite snail is any snail that comes from the family Neritidae, named after the minor sea god, Nerites, from Greek mythology. There are more than 200 species within the family, also known as a genus.

Nerite Snails

These snails are classed as small or medium-sized snails, found in salt and freshwater environments. Fondly nicknamed “algae vacuums” by hobbyists, they are one of nature’s janitorial team, cleaning up algae and other organisms.

Although there are a wide number of nerite snail species, they are collectively referred to as zebra nerites, tiger snails, or simply nerites in the aquarium world.

Popular Nerite Snail Types

There are a wide range of nerite snails. Here are a few that you can include in a home aquarium:

– Spotted Nerite

Known by the scientific name Vittina natalensis, this freshwater nerite snail is also known as the zebra nerite snail. This is because some spotted nerite snails are patterned with stripes instead of spots.

This zebra nerite snail should not be confused with Puperita pupa, which is another zebra-named species in the Neritidae family. Puperita pupa lives in saltwater, not freshwater.

– Tiger Nerite

The tiger nerite snail is also known byVittina turrita, or tiger snail. It is another freshwater nerite.

The pattern of the tiger nerite shell is what lures most people in with this gastropod, a mixture of light and dark almost psychedelic stripes.

– Olive Nerite

Known by the scientific name Neritina reclivata, freshwater olive nerites are every bit as olive in color as you’d think. They grow to around 0.5-1 inch (1.5 cm to 2.5 cm).

– Red Racer Nerite

This one is also known as the gold racer nerite as well as the scientific name Vittina waigiensis. You’ll find red racers along coastal areas of Indonesia and the Philippines. If you want to add some color and flare to your tank, these red or gold tank mates would be the way to do it.

– Black Racer Nerite

The black racer nerite, also known as Neritina pulligera and dusky nerite snail, is found in many places. Although near threatened in Africa, the black racer nerites are found all over the continent, as well as India, South-East Asia, Pacific Ocean islands, and Australia.

– Horny Nerite

Neritodryas cornea is quite something to look at, with bands of creamy yellow and dark brown/black. In some instances, the designs of these snails look very similar to the traditional dogtooth pattern.

Where Do Nerite Snails Live in the Wild?

There are many different species of nerite snail, and they’re all native to different parts of the world. The majority live in saltwater for most of the time, occasionally verging into brackish water (for breeding) and freshwater; but there are a few species that live in freshwater only.

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The horned nerite snail is an example of a freshwater nerite.

It is thought that the snails spend their time in the areas where land bodies of water meet the ocean or sea – rivers, streams, etc. This helps them to move between the two bodies – salt and freshwater, into brack or brackish water– when it comes to mating, feeding, laying eggs, etc.

Freshwater Nerite Snail Species

·       Horned nerite snail – Clithon corona

·       Zebra nerite snail – Neritina natalensis

·       Tire tracked nerite snail (also known as red onion) – Vittina semiconica

·       Olive nerite snail – Neritina reclivata

·       Red lip nerite snail (also known as red lips) – Neripteron violaceum

·       Dusky nerite snail – Neritinia pulligera

·       Mosaic nerite snail – Neritina sp.

·       Tribal nerite snail – Neritina sp.

What do Nerite Snails Look Like?

There are many different species within the Neritidae family, and each of them look very different. Some are brown or yellow or green, others are black and red. Some are spotted, others have stripes, and then there are the ones with so many colors that you couldn’t count them all. There are even horned nerite snails, with actual horns.

As well as being the best green algae eaters, these gastropods are regularly added to a tank to add some color. There is a wide variety of shell designs, patterns, colors and styles to pick from.

How Big Can Nerite Snails Get?

Nerite snails are a small family.

Smaragdia purpureomaculata, is a tiny sea snail in the Neritidae family. The maximum length for this little gastropod’s shell is 0.1 inch (2.8 mm).

Vittina natalensis (spotted or zebra nerite), has a maximum shell diameter of around 1 inch (2.5 cm).

Puperita pupa, a Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea-based nerite snail with stripes, that actually looks like a zebra, can reach a shell diameter of 0.4 inch (1.1 cm).

Neritodryas cornea, also known as the horny nerite, can have a shell length of 1.5 inches (4 cm).

Most snails within the Neritidae family grow to a shell length or diameter of 1 inch. They are not particularly large snails.

Nerite snails will reach their full size at one year of age, but it can take a little longer for some individuals, depending on the environment.

How Long Do Nerite Snails Live?

With ideal conditions in the tank, you can expect these algae eaters to live for up to three years. Between one and three years tends to be the average; however, many aquarium hobbyists have spoken of nerite snails aged four and five years.

How long your gastropods will last, will depend on a variety of factors. This includes habitat conditions, food supplies, relationships with tankmates, disease, and more.

What Do Nerite Snails Eat?

Nerite snails are biofilm and algae eating machines. They’ll vacuum up algae in a tank so quickly, especially if you have more than one, you’ll need to supplement their natural, in-aquarium diet with extra food.

As well as soft green algae, these gastropods will also free your tank of brown diatoms, brown algae, and soft film algae. It seems to be the case that different snails prefer different types of food. Some owners note having two nerite snails in the same tank, one of which will eat one particular type of green algae, with the other eating a different type.

That’s why you should consider having nerite snails in your home aquarium: they’ll work hard as part of your janitorial team!

Nerite Snail Supplemental Food

Supplemental foods for nerite snails should be given as and when it is necessary. Algae wafers and flakes are the best diet substitutes, but you can also feed fresh vegetables, provided they are blanched vegetables (to make them soft). This includes seaweed, carrots, and spinach.

Pellet foods is another option. You could also consider using cuttlebones and other, similar tank edible additions that help to boost calcium levels.  

Just as with algae eating, you may find that your nerite snails have particular fresh food preferences. The more you watch and interact with them, the more you will learn their individual quirks.

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Why Are Nerite Snails So Good for an Aquarium?

There are three main reasons why tank enthusiasts choose to add nerites to a salt or freshwater aquarium:

1)      Nerites eat an enormous amount of biofilm and brown/green algae, which reduces effort and cost for glass cleaning and filter/maintenance.

2)      Nerites will not start feeding on the green plants in your tank, however. Nor are they big enough to do any damage to plants, ornaments, or reef setups with their shells.

3)      Finally, these animals struggle to reproduce in freshwater and in aquatic captivity. There is a very low chance that yours will breed in the tank, and a very low chance of experiencing the side effects of community overpopulation.  

Are Nerite Snails Hardy?

Yes, nerite snails are hardy. Once the tank aquarium is set up, with the right parameters to keep your gastropods and other marine life safe, they’ll be quite happy to slide along, cleaning the glass, rocks, and ornaments, and keeping algae levels down.

You must bear in mind that nerite snails prefer the cooler end of the water temperature scale. If the water in your tank is 80°F or above, you should reconsider your gastropod decision.

If water parameters or other habitat parameters are not quite right, your nerite snails (and the rest of your tank’s ecosystem) will start to go into decline.

Compared to most other reef and aquarium safe gastropods, nerite snails are one of the easiest to take care of.

Do Nerite Snails Burrow?

No, nerite snails do not burrow. They spend their time attached to the reef in the tank, the glass, or plants/ornaments, devouring biofilm and algae in the tank.

If you can’t find your nerite snail(s), it could be the case that it/they have escaped. They’re pretty good at getting out of tanks, so you’re going to want to make sure that yours is nerite-escape-proof.

Is Breeding Nerite Snails Easy?

No, it is not easy to breed nerite snails. Breeding nerite snails is notoriously difficult for several reasons:

– Nerites Aren’t Hermaphrodites.

Nerite snails are either male or female. They are not hermaphrodite like some snail species. You must have one of each gender for them to reproduce, and they are rather difficult to tell apart, especially if you are a novice.

(The online gastropod or aquarium community might be able to help you, however. They are quite friendly and helpful!)

– Nerites Breed in Brackish Water.

Nerite snails will usually not reproduce in the tank they are kept in – marine (saltwater) or freshwater. They require brackish water to lay eggs, which is a mixture of fresh water and saltwater. This mimics their natural habitat – the areas where rivers meet the sea.

You’ll need a brackish water habitat if you wanted to breed nerite snails. Once the nerite snail eggs are hatched, they would then need to be moved into a fresh water or saltwater (marine) tank.

– Nerite Snail Eggs Need Higher Temperatures.

Not only do nerites require brackish water, but nerite snail eggs will only hatch if the brackish water is warm enough. They occasionally lay eggs in freshwater, at room temp, but it is highly unlikely that the eggs will hatch.

Nerite Snail Care Guide

Here are the basic things you’ll need to know, to keep your snails happy in the tank.

How Many Nerite Snails Should I Have in the Tank?

A two-gallon tank is the minimum required for one horned nerite snail (for example).

Ideally, you will want a ten-gallon glass tank for one snail, adding five gallons for every additional one. Just make sure there is enough algae to feed them .

What Temperature Water Do Nerite Snails Need?

Nerite snails require water to be between 71°F and 79°F. The water should not go above 80°F.

This species can live in a wide range, but it is still likely that your aquarium will need a heater.

See also  Nassarius Snail

Do Nerite Snails Need Aeration in Tanks?

Yes, you should ensure that your tank is well-oxygenated. These gastropods naturally come from well-oxygenated water and will struggle if there is no (or insufficient) aeration and filter system.

What’s the Right pH Level for Nerite Snails?

Nerite snails can survive in water that is slightly over the pH range, but if the water parameters are too far off, the snails’ shells can start losing calcium.

The right pH level for nerite snails is between 8.1 and 8.4.

How to Stop Nerite Snails Escaping

Nerites are excellent escape artists. If there is a way out of your tank, they will find it and use it, and you may never find them again. If you take just one thing from this nerites care guide, let this tip be it…

Make sure your tank has a lid that can be fixed firmly in place.

If your snails’ shells can fit through a gap or hole, the snail will attempt to get through it.

Can Nerites Right Themselves if They Flip Over?

Some nerites will be able to flip themselves over if they find themselves upside down, but not all of them can.

If you spot your nerites on their back on the substrate, put them the right way up. If you don’t, your snails could end up drowning.

Nerite Snails: Community & Tank Mates

To keep your aquatic ecosystem happy, you should ensure that the peaceful nerite snails work with other tank mates. Avoid adding nerite snails to a tank that has fish or other animals that feed on snails. These include gouramis, betta fish or fighting fish.

The outcome will be as you’d expect: the snail-eating fish and animals eat the algae-feeding snails in the tank.

Aggressive fish should be avoided in the same tank as this gastropod. This includes puffer fish, loaches, African cichlids, Oscar fish, and others.

Nerite snails are very peaceful. You can build a community with shrimp, and you can also add various non-aggressive fish and other animals.

Be wary of crabs. Hermit crabs switch shells and they might decide to steal the one belonging to your beautiful olive nerite snail!

Nerite Snails: Troubleshooting

If you are new to the world of nerite snails, here are a few problems that you may encounter. By being prepared for them, you can avoid them.

1: Nerite Snails Not Moving

If your nerite snail is on its back, not moving, put it the right way up. They struggle to flip over if they end up upside-down.

Nerite snails will also go into a period of prolonged peaceful stillness after feeding. During feeding times, the gastropods move constantly, vacuuming up all food particles they can find. Afterwards, they can be still and peaceful for many hours, days, or even weeks at a time. Some of them will even hide, too.

2: Nerite Snails Keep Dying

If your nerites keep sadly passing away, look at the water parameters. Is the temperature correct? Water calcium levels? Nitrate levels? Water hard/softness?

These are all things that matter to nerite snails.

If one tiger nerite snail has passed away in the tank, remove it immediately. Ammonia will be released in the water, which will cause illness in the tank.

Disease can cause gastropods to die in tanks, as well as aggressive tank mates, insufficient algae and/or food levels.

3: Nerite Snails Keep Disappearing

If your peaceful nerites can escape, they will escape. They’ll try to, at least.

If they can’t escape, it could be the case that they have gone into hiding amongst the plants, reefs, ornaments, or substrate.