Stomatella Snail: Aquarium Hitchhikers

The small-but-mighty Stomatella snail regularly finds its way into home aquariums after hitchin’ a ride on rocks and reef – but what are you supposed to do with these algae eaters once they’re in your tank? Watch them? Leave them there and hope they become part of the clean up crew? Lose them?

Let’s find out.

What Are Stomatella Snails?

The name ‘Stomatella’ is given to any snail that belongs to the genus Stomatella, and there are quite a few species. The marine gastropods (sea snails) are from a family that people know as top snails, top shells, or the scientific name Trochidae.

They’re also known by a host of other names, including:

·       Slug snail

·       Shell-less snail

·       Dove snail

·       Mini abalone snail

·       Fingernail snail

·       Paper shell snail

If you see them in your tank, don’t worry; they’re good for your aquarium. Let them stay! Watch them for a while. They’ll become an integral part of the clean up crew if you let them, saving you money on algae, leftover fish food, and biofilm removal products for your tank.

Stomatella Snail Identification

The list of Stomatella snail species is long, interesting, and full of colors, but the one commonly found on reef and rock, accidentally hitchhiking its way into the water of your tank, is worthy of its nickname.

It is often dark or black, but can also be pink, red, or a host of other shades.

Most people assume that this little water hitchhiker is another black slug rather than a snail, and they’d be forgiven for thinking that. Some species have teeny-tiny almost-half size shells on top of the body, making them look more like their homeless cousins with a quick eye.

The nickname “fingernail snail” gives the game away: the half shell is very small and looks like a fingernail in the back of the snail’s body.

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These snails have an interesting defense mechanism that might help you to identify them. They can ‘lose’ their tails in much the same way that lizards can, literally dropping it off and growing a new one. This helps when they come under attack from predators. (It is not recommended that you try it for yourself, though!)

Stomatella Snail Size

Just as with their appearance, different species of Stomatella snail will grow to different sizes, but they aren’t a large family, overall. They grow to around an inch in length (2.5 cm), but many are smaller.

How Long Do Stomatella Snails Live?

Most Stomatella snails live for two to three years. That’s not to say that yours won’t keep for longer than that. Both novice and experienced aquarium hobbyists have told of longer-lasting individuals in their tank and glass clean up crew.

Where Do Stomatella Snails Come From?

There are many species of Stomatella snail, from different places.

Stomatella auricula, also known as the false ear shell, is found in marine spots including the East Indian Ocean, Central Indian Ocean, Red Sea, South Pacific, Western Pacific, and more.

Stomatella ungula can be found in one place: the waters around Queensland in Australia.

Stomatella monteiroi is native to Philippines.

They are Indo-Pacific marine snails, which gives you a good idea of where most species can be found.

What Do Stomatella Snails Eat?

Stomatella snails are herbivores, which means they eat plant matter. They especially love biological organisms in a tank that you wouldn’t want there, including diatoms and various algae forms, including hair algae, red algae, green algae, brown algae, and cyano algae.

Although it isn’t well known for them to do so, some Stomatella snails will clean up flaked fish food and take care of leftover food in tanks. You shouldn’t use this to supplement the snails’ diet, though. Instead, you should look at adding flaked and dried seaweed (nori) or algae flakes, but only when it is necessary to.

Adding nori dried seaweed and other things when it is not needed can upset the delicate level of chemicals in a tank – calcium, ammonia, magnesium, nitrates, etc.

Are Stomatella Snails Good for an Aquarium?

A Stomatella snail in a reef tank or aquarium is a good thing. The gastropods will consume a lot of the green algae and other biological organisms that you would otherwise need to take care of, to keep the water clean and clear and with the right level of chemicals and compounds. In that respect, they’ll save you time, money, and effort. (We love that fact, right?!)

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Being rather small, with a small shell, they are not likely to cause any damage to your reef or other tank ornaments. You must ensure there is plenty of reef and rock as well as sand substrate first, though. The snail likes to stay on reefs and corals (and even the glass) in tanks than on the sandy colors of the substrate on the floor. It is not another burrowing species.

Make sure your reef safe snails do not breed too quickly, or too often; otherwise, you’ll find yourself faced with a lot of problems with the entire aquarium.

How to Acclimate Stomatella Snails into Your Clean Up Crew

Always check new coral, rock, and other aquarium additions before putting them into the tank to be sure there are no hangers-on. Like most other gastropods, the Stomatella snail is sensitive to changes in water parameters, such as calcium levels and temperature. You should acclimate it slowly to their new surroundings.

Drip acclimation is best, and you should do it even slower than you usually would. So, for example, if you would often drip acclimate fish or other snails for around an hour, you should free-up two/two-and-a-half hours to acclimate your Stomatella snail(s). The slower the better.

Once you have added the gastropod to its new habitat, make sure you keep an eye on it. If you see it settling into aquarium life, leave it alone. If you see the snails are stationary, not eating algae, and not moving at all, you need to remove them. This is an indication they are suffering from the change in environment and will soon start to become potentially fatally unwell if you keep them in the tank.

How Many Snails Should I Have in the Tank?

Ideally, you should only have one of these snails for every five gallons of water.

Ten gallons of water will be suitable for two snails, and fifteen gallons will be suitable for three snails, etc. Just make sure there is enough algae or nori to feed them all and remember that they will need to get in line with other tank mates, such as shrimp, for food.

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What Eats Stomatella Snails?

If you have fish that eat snails in your aquarium, those fish will eat your Stomatellas because the gastropods are part of the fish’s natural diet. You’ll need to keep this gastropod away from aquariums with aggressive fish and shell-stealers, such as hermit crabs, too.

Apart from that, you’ll find your reef safe Stomatellas to be peaceful and docile, and they’ll get along well with most other marine creatures, including shrimp.

Will Stomatella Snails Breed in My Tank?

Yes, there is a chance that your new Stomatella snails will breed in your tank.

There is a downside to Stomatella snails breeding, especially if the tank size isn’t sufficient for them all. If they keep multiplying, you’ll have unsustainable numbers. There won’t be enough food for all the algae eaters in the tank (remember the shrimp and other creatures, too!), so they’ll see them start to die of starvation. This will then alter the ammonia and other chemical levels in the water if carcasses aren’t removed quickly.

You will see when and if your clean up crew snails start breeding and laying eggs. It’s smart to know to remove them, and how you need to remove them.

Removing un-hatched eggs will help with Stomatella snail control and keep them reef safe.

Can You Buy Stomatella Snails?

Very few stores stock Stomatella snails or eggs, especially online. You are more likely to pick them up on rock or other tank accessory imports.

Helpful Fact: There are forums where aquarium enthusiasts share difficult-to-buy creatures like this one. They are worth taking a look at. You might find someone with Stomatellas in their tank, that they can donate to yours!