Are Malaysian Trumpet Snails Good Or Bad For My Aquarium?

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There’s a familiar conversation in aquarium forums and Facebook groups. Ask whether Malaysian Trumpet Snails are good or bad, and you’ll always get people telling you they are the worst.

However, these people can never say why, other than something vague about overpopulation. 

Then you’ll get the less vocal minority giving you all the reasons you should keep them in your tank. They don’t shout as loudly as the detractors, but I’m here to tell you they’re correct!

How did Malaysian Trumpet Snails end up in my tank?

Most people end up with Malaysian Trumpet Snails by accident. They hitchhike on plants or in gravel particles caught in nets while your local fish store was catching your new fish. They’re either too small to be noticed, or their eggs are attached to the plants already.

When aquarium owners see them, they use Google to find out what they are. Usually, they’re greeted by harbingers of doom who will tell them how terrible these little pests are for their tank:

Lots of people aren’t keen on Malaysian Trumpet Snails…

Are Malaysian Trumpet Snails pests?

Some aquarium owners think Malaysian Trumpet Snails and other snail species are pests because they are usually unwanted hitchhikers. They arrive with plants and quickly reproduce and can take over an aquarium if not kept in check. However, they are also very beneficial to tank health.

The benefits of having these snails in your tank far outweigh the drawbacks. I’m yet to see a convincing argument for getting rid of what some people call ‘pest’ snails.

A couple of Malaysian Trumpet Snails from one of my tanks

Here are the main advantages of having Malaysian Trumpet Snails in your aquarium:

Five ways Malaysian Trumpet Snails help an aquarium

They keep your substrate healthy

Malaysian Trumpet Snails burrow into sand used as substrate on the tank floor. They do this so they can find particles of food that have fallen to the floor and seeped into the sand.

This means that most of the time, you won’t see the majority of the MTS in your tank as they’ll be hidden below the surface. They’re not a nocturnal snail, but most will only come out at night, once the lights are off.

If you’re using sand, there’s a risk that anaerobic gas can be trapped in your substrate. Sand users may have seen small bubbles rising out of the sand when it’s been disturbed. This is usually Hydrogen sulfide (H2S).

This gas can create a toxic environment for fish if released suddenly. However, because Trumpet Snails are constantly burrowing, this gas never gets a chance to build up to dangerous levels.

Instead, it’s released into your tank in harmless amounts as the snails burrow, and simply dissipates at the surface or is neutralized by your filter system.

If you’re interested, here is a really detailed discussion of the anaerobic gas problem (and solution).

They help your plants grow

By burrowing into the sand, Malaysian Trumpet Snails are also aerating the roots of your plants.

Plants need oxygen at the roots, or they’ll start to wither and die. If the plant roots die, the entire plant dies.

By disturbing the substrate around the roots, Trumpet Snails give your plants a better chance to thrive.

They help keep algae at bay

Malaysian Trumpet Snails love algae. Whenever algae starts to accumulate on the wall of my tank, I see 5-10 of them hanging off the glass during the day.

Their little mouths extend out of their body and scrape algae off the glass, as well as the rocks in the tank. I’ve even seen them climb up to the hang-on-back filter I have in there to look for a snack.

Due to their size, MTS are not the most efficient algae eaters but they’re a valuable member of any cleanup crew.

They feed your snail eaters

It might seem odd to be praising these snails and then talking about them as prey, but hear me out.

As much as I love them, I also love a balanced ecosystem. If you have snail eaters like pea puffers or assassin snails, Malaysian Trumpet Snails make a great addition.

A pea puffer stalking an unsuspecting snail. IMG_0830-2 by naturalaquascapedesigns is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Those animals need food, and Trumpet Snails make a wonderful snack for them.

The key here is balance – too much fish food will encourage MTS to overpopulate. Then again, you don’t want your snail eaters to wipe out your MTS population entirely. That means monitoring how much food you put in the tank so they will breed at a higher rate than they’re being eaten.

They eat harmful detritus

Dead leaves and leftover food release ammonia into your tank as they decompose. Ammonia is bad for your tank and can kill your fish and invertebrates.

While Malaysian Trumpet Snails won’t eat healthy plants, they’ll happily chow down on leaves and stems that are rotting on the tank floor.

Meanwhile, any fish food that makes its way down there is a banquet for MTS. These guys are part of a cleanup crew in my community tank that includes shrimp, Nerite snails and Kuhli Loaches.

Once the Guppies and Cardinal Tetras have had their fill at the top and in the middle of the water column, the food floats down to the tank floor. Here, Trumpet Snails and the rest of the bottom-feeders are waiting.

I’ve also seen them tucking into shrimp molts and the kind of general dirt that accumulates on the tank floor. It’s tough to get to every piece of detritus while vacuuming the substrate, so I’m grateful to these little cleaners for their help.

However, there’s one thing they won’t eat…

Do Malaysian Trumpet Snails eat fish poop?

Malaysian Trumpet Snails don’t eat fish poop. It’s a myth that this is edible to any of your cleanup crew. If they do mistake fish waste for food, they’ll spit it out, just like your fish do. They also produce waste themselves, so it’s important to vacuum your substrate.

MTS are a low-bioload member of your tank but they do contribute to the waste in the tank. The more of them you have, the higher the bioload.

So sorry to any lazy tank owners out there, but Malaysian Trumpet Snails are not a substitute for cleaning your tank. If you’re looking for a good gravel vacuum, I can recommend this one:

Are there any downsides to keeping Malaysian Trumpet Snails?

The hard shells of Malaysian Trumpet Snails can damage the impeller blade on your tank filter on the rare occasions they manage to get inside. Otherwise, the only downside is that they can breed quickly, but if you like lots of snails this might not be a bad thing!

Invasive hitch-hiking snails like MTS are often discussed online. There’s usually someone claiming they’re bad because they reproduce quickly.

However, I’ve never seen anyone explain why this is a negative. As discussed, they’re great for your tank.

So as long as you’re not overstocked with snails to the point that the bioload is out of control, I don’t see a problem.

How to stop Malaysian Trumpet Snails from over-breeding

If Malaysian Trumpet Snails have enough food, they’ll breed enough to completely overpopulate your tank. The best way to avoid this is to make sure you understand how much food your fish need, and cut down as soon as you see your Trumpet Snail population increasing.

The tricky part here is that MTS can survive with little-to-no food for a long time. They’re extremely resilient to very harsh conditions, so preventing an overpopulation problem is far easier than solving one.

The key is knowing how much to feed your fish, and 99% of the time, they need less food than you think.

Fish stomachs are tiny but their instinct to feed is strong. If they get excited when you approach the tank it’s because they’ve come to expect food when you’re near, not because they’re starving.

It’s very difficult for a fish to starve to death unless they’ve gone for a significant number of days without food. Over-feeding, which is much more common, can cause health problems like fin rot and fatty liver.

It also makes your fish produce more waste, which means more ammonia. Because of this, it’s far easier to kill your fish by overfeeding than by under-feeding.

Even though it might seem like you’re being cruel, force yourself to feed that little bit less. It’s better for your fish, and you can always start to increase the amount you feed if you don’t see your Malaysian Trumpet Snails breeding.

Amano Shrimp and Malaysian Trumpet Snail – two of my cleanup crew

What eats Malaysian Trumpet Snails?

If you decide you want to get rid of your Malaysian Trumpet Snails, there are a few new tank mates you can consider for your tank:

  • Clown Loaches
  • YoYo Loaches
  • Queen Loaches (or Queen Botia)
  • Pea Puffers
  • Assassin Snails
  • African Cichlids

Malaysian Trumpet Snails – FAQs

Can Malaysian Trumpet Snails Live Out Of Water?

Like most aquatic snails, Malaysian Trumpet Snails can live outside of water for a short time. Their bodies will dry out within a few hours and they’ll die if they don’t make it back to the water. I’ve found a few dried out snails behind my tank, unfortunately.

How Big Do Malaysian Trumpet Snails Get?

In the wild, Malaysian Trumpet Snails grow up to two inches. In an aquarium, they’ll usually only reach one inch, or around 2.5cm. They reach this size within a year, growing around 0.1 inches per month. MTS can reproduce when they’re just three months old.

Do Malaysian Trumpet Snails Reproduce Asexually?

Malaysian Trumpet Snails can reproduce sexually or asexually, which is why you only need one in your tank to start a population. MTS are not hermaphrodites and don’t change sex, but the females are able to simply produce clones of themselves.

Do Malaysian Trumpet Snails Lay Eggs?

Malaysian Trumpet Snails don’t lay eggs, but instead give birth to tiny live young. They can have as many as 200 baby snails at once, which is how they manage to reproduce so quickly. They’ll breed as quickly as the food source allows, so don’t over-feed!

How Long Do Malaysian Trumpet Snails Live?

In the right conditions, Malaysian Trumpet Snails live up to 4 years but the average is 2-3 years. If the food source disappears, these snails are excellent survivors and can live a long time with little to no food, which makes them very hard to eliminate from your tank.

Can Malaysian Trumpet Snails Live In Brackish Water?

Malaysian Trumpet Snails are able to live in brackish water but will need to be acclimated slowly if they’re used to freshwater. They’ve even been known to survive in salt water on rare occasions, so brackish water isn’t too much of a challenge.

Do Malaysian Trumpet Snails Eat Other Snails?

Malaysian Trumpet Snails won’t eat other snails. This is a fairly common misconception based on the fact that they’re similar in appearance to the assassin snail. Both have conical shells, so it can be easy to assume you have a population of cannibals in your tank.

Can Malaysian Trumpet Snails Live In Cold Water?

Malaysian Trumpet Snails are very hardy and can survive in a range of conditions, but they don’t do particularly well in cold water aquariums. They much prefer temperatures between 70-78°F (21-25.5°C), where they’ll breed quickly and in large numbers.

Do Malaysian Trumpet Snails Escape?

Malaysian Trumpet Snails are unlikely to try to escape your tank. While others like the Nerite Snail are often found dried out on the floor near their tank, MTS seem to be much less curious and would die within a few hours after leaving the water anyway.

Summary

While there will always be someone telling you how bad Malaysian Trumpet Snails and other snail species are for your tank, this usually comes down to over-population.

Of course in fishkeeping, too much of anything is bad. Although they’re great for your aquarium, MTS can breed quickly and in large numbers.

Too many will increase bioload and cause ammonia spikes in your tank, which isn’t ideal.

The key is to use these snails as a test of how much to feed your fish. If you see their numbers increasing, it’s a sign there is leftover food for their offspring to eat.

Keep food to a minimum and remove any dead plant matter, as they’ll rotting roots, stems, and leaves, too.

If you keep the balance just right, you’ll end up with just enough Malaysian Trumpet Snails to keep your tank healthy as part of your cleanup crew.

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