Nerite snails are a great addition to your aquarium because they look great, and they keep the tank clean. A pet that cleans up after itself is always going to win favor!
These snails are found in most aquarium stores or pet stores with an aquarium section. They’re really cheap, costing about $4 a snail, which means that you can stock up on these little cleaners without breaking the bank.
As with any living creature, you need to be informed about their care and feeding needs before you purchase them. They might be handy little cleaners, but they still need looking after.
This guide will take you through everything you need to know about keeping nerite snails. We’ll cover feeding, housing, care, and mates.
What Are Nerite Snails?
Nerite snails are small snails from the Neritidae family. They are distinguished from other snails by their gills and the fact that they live in water.
With over 200 snails in this family, there are nerites to suit every kind of aquarium. Some are happy in salt water, some in brackish water, and others in freshwater.
These snails originated on the coastal plains of East Africa in countries like Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, and Somalia.
Lifespan and Description
Nerite snails are small, with the largest just about reaching 1 inch under optimal conditions. The general size of these snails is between half an inch and 1 inch.
Unfortunately, these handy little mollusks don’t have a very long lifespan. They tend to live for about a year before dying. Some keepers report nerites that live to be two or three, but this is incredibly rare.
On the other end of the spectrum, some nerites die shortly after being brought home. This is usually a result of stress due to the relocation.
Like all other snails, nerites are gastropods, which means that they have a single ‘foot’ made up of thick muscular tissue. The foot sits directly below their stomach, hence the term gastropod, which means stomach foot when translated.
Nerites are also univalves, another thing they have in common with other snails. This means that they have one single shell. This is in contrast to bivalves like oysters and muscles, who have two shells.
In nerites, the shells are coiled at the tip and come in a wide range of colors and patterns. The vibrant shell designs are partly responsible for the popularity of these snails.
The different shell patterns are used to divide and identify different nerite varieties. There are an incredible number of different nerites, too many to cover, in fact. Below, you’ll find a brief description of some of the most common varieties.
1. Zebra Nerite Snails
These nerites are named for the black stripes that run from the tip of their shell down to the base. The rest of the shell is usually yellow or golden brown rather than white.
Zebra nerites shouldn’t be confused with Puperita pupa which is another kind of sea snail in the neitidae family. These are also commonly known as zebra nerites thanks to their black and white shells.
The main difference between our algae eating zebra nerites and the Piperita pupa is their place of origin. Piperita pupas originate in the Caribbean and South American islands. The Zebra nerite snail we’re talking about comes from East Africa.
2. Tiger Nerite Snails
The shell of a tiger nerite will be anything from dark, rusty brown to a vibrant, intense orange. The stripes on the tiger nerite will be more jagged and random, which makes it look a bit more like a tiger.
Sometimes the stripes are more broken up and look like spots instead of stripes. When this happens, the snails look more like cheetahs than tigers!
3. Olive Nerite Snails
As the name suggests, olive nerite snails are olive colored. They range from a pale olive green to a darker brownish green color.
The shells don’t have any markings or stripes, however they may have a black demarcation around the coil of their shells.
These are less showy than other nerites, but they have a simple charm to them.
4. Red Racer Nerite Snail
These nerites are some of the showiest and most dazzling of their kind. They will certainly brighten up any tank they are placed in.
The main color of the shell will be either red or red and yellow. If it features both red and yellow, the colors will usually form alternating bands up the shell.
The most striking feature of the red racers is the patterned stripe that wraps around their shell. This stripe is usually made up of arrows or chevrons, which is why these snails are called racers.
As you’d expect with such a beautiful shell, these snails are rare and expensive. They tend to be harder to find in big box pet stores, which means that you may have to go to a breeder.
5. Black Racer Nerite Snails
Unlike the red racers, black racers are much more understated. They are usually black or deep brown and have a repeating ring pattern all the way back across the shell. This makes them look a bit like chunks of wood with a grain.
6. Horned Nerite Snails
These nerites are easily identified by the little horns that stick up out of their shells. There are usually about three or four little growths, but some have many more and some have only one or two.
In terms of color, horned nerites are usually a creamy yellow with black stripes. However, there can be lots of different colors and patterns.
Nerite snails only breed when they are in brackish water. For many aquarists, this means that they can carefully control the snail populations in their tanks.
If you are planning on adding nerites to a brackish tank, then be prepared for eggs. It is difficult to tell male nerites from females, as they look and behave the same. Usually, they are only correctly sexed when the female begins to lay eggs.
Nerite snails lay eggs whether they are fertilized or not, and will lay in fresh and saltwater. The eggs will not progress past the egg stage unless they are in brackish water.
The eggs are small, white, sticky, and fairly hard. They will lay them on the sides of tanks and stalks of plants. In essence, anywhere stable that the eggs can stick to.
If you don’t want to have eggs in your tank, you’ll need to use a knife or scraper to remove them from their anchor point. The eggs are incredibly sticky and cling to whatever they’ve been laid on.
If you do want to breed nerites, you’ll need a group of at least 5 or 6 snails to maximize your chances of having male and female snails. Again, this is down to the fact that it is difficult to correctly sex these snails.
The two things you need to know about nerite snail behavior. First of all, you should know that they are voracious algae eaters. The second thing to know is that they are very calm and peaceful tank mates.
You can place nerite snails in pretty much any tank, and they’ll get on with the other inhabitants. They’re not bothered by or intimidated by other snails or fish.
Some fish like to poke at nerite shells out of curiosity or boredom. This doesn’t worry nerites. They’ll take it in their stride and carry on with their day.
Larger, predatory fish do sometimes try to turn nerites into a snack. You want to avoid putting them in a tank with large, aggressive fish.
Don’t put nerites into tanks with cichlids, crayfish, or freshwater sharks. These kinds of fish will gobble up your nerites without a second thought.
Schooling fish, bottom dwellers, shrimp, and other snails are totally amicable with nerite snails and make excellent tank mates.
Even betta fish are happy to cohabit with nerite snails, even though they dislike all other tank mates.
As snails go, the nerite snail is fairly active. You’ll spot them moving around the tank throughout the day. This is because they are constantly searching for algae to wolf down.
In terms of sleeping, nerites have a 2 to 3-day sleep cycle. That means they’ll have several smaller naps over 15 hours, and then they’ll be awake and active for a whole 30 hours!
Sometimes, nerites appear to have fallen over in your tank. They might be laying on their back or side and trying to right themselves. They can usually right themselves, but they definitely appreciate a helping hand where possible.
If you notice your snail on it’s back or side, and it doesn’t seem to be trying to right itself, it might be dead or dying.
Lethargy is one of the major symptoms of illness in nerite snails. As we said, they’re fairly active for snails, so if they’re not moving around and eating, you know something is wrong.
These snails love algae. They will eat pretty much any and all algae in the tank. That’s why they are so popular with aquarists, they literally eat up the algae to keep the tank clean.
Nerites will traverse the tank searching for algae. Nowhere is off-limits to them. They’ll find algae on the glass, in the substrate, on plants, and even in the filters. They are, in effect, little shelled vacuum cleaners.
What makes them super desirable is the fact that they’ll clean the algae off live plants, but they won’t damage the plants themselves. Nerites are not interested in eating your plants. This makes them an excellent choice of planted tanks.
Generally, you won’t need to put extra food in for nerites. They will be happy just eating the algae. However, if the alga isn’t forming fast enough, you may need to supplement their diet with algae wafers or green vegetables.
One sure fire way to deplete the algae stores in your tank is to overpopulate with nerite snails. The ideal ratio is to have one nerite snail per 5 gallons of water. This will make sure that there’s enough food to go around.
Some nerites suffer from calcium deficiency, which can cause a condition called ‘soft shell.’ This can lead to more serious health concerns. To prevent soft shell, you may need to provide calcium supplements.
Nerite snails may be small, but they prefer larger tanks. This is because it is much easier to manage the water conditions in tanks over 10 gallons. Also, larger tanks are better at producing algae for the nerites to eat.
Nerites shouldn’t really be added to tanks under 10 gallons, but 20-gallon tanks would be the ideal minimum size. You can put 1 snail per 5 gallons, which means that a 20-gallon tank can hold 4 nerite snails.
You can get both freshwater and saltwater nerites. Freshwater nerites are rarer, but they are still readily available. Some saltwater varieties have developed to live happily in freshwater, so you have plenty of options.
Whether you have a saltwater or freshwater tank, nerites have the same basic water parameters. They are a tropical creature and need water between 72 – 78 degrees. This means they can only be homed with tropical fish with the same temperature preferences.
In terms of pH, nerites like a higher pH level. The ideal range is between 8.1 and 8.4. Again, this is going to restrict the kind of tanks and aquariums these snails can join.
Saltwater nerites need a salinity of 1.020 – 1.028sg.
The first thing you’re going to need is a secure lid. Nerites are good climbers, and they will look everywhere for algae, including outside the tank.
You don’t need any other special equipment for your nerites. They are pretty low maintenance and will be happy in any standard tropical set up.
There are a few items that can help enrich or optimize the environment for your snails.
First up, consider plants. Nerite snails don’t eat plants, but the plants help to produce matter that encourages algae growth. As a bonus, your snails will happily clean off your plants without eating them.
The other thing to consider is driftwood. Again, the snails don’t directly eat driftwood, but algae like to cling to the wood.
When it comes to substrate, go for a fine grain or sand substrate. This tends to be kinder to the sensitive feelers the snails use to seek out food. You won’t have to worry about cleaning the substrate because the snails do that for you.
There are a few things to avoid when creating an environment for your snails.
Ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates need to be kept as low as possible. Ideally, these should be at 0ppm. You shouldn’t need additional equipment to manage this, as long as you have a decent filter, and you’re changing the water weekly.
If any of your fish are on medication, or you’re medicating the water to help other inhabitants, your snails may be at risk. They are particularly susceptible to absorbing medications.
If you are using copper to treat parasites, you’ll probably want to remove your snails until the treatment is over. Copper can be fatal for nerites.
Introducing Nerite Snails
The first thing you’ll need to do is make sure your water matches the snails' needs. Check both the temperature and the pH level before you introduce any snails. If you’re introducing them to a saltwater tank, make sure you also check the salinity.
Next, you need to check the ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, and copper levels. These need to be as close to 0ppm as possible.
When you put them into the water, gently place them at the bottom of the tank. Dropping them from the top of the tank can cause stress. It can also leave the snails overturned when they hit the bottom.
As we’ve mentioned above, nerites can have a hard time turning themselves over if they’re on their side or back.
It is better to add nerites one at a time to a tank. If you add 4 or 5 at a time, you might end up over-populating your tank. Go slow and check whether there is enough algae to support more snails before introducing another one.
Snails may not be your go-to tank inhabitants, but nerites deserve a place in your aquarium. They look wonderful, and they useful little mollusks earn their place by cleaning!