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Introduction. The first physa above showed up in one of my planted tanks one day.. It's a thin-shelled version of the regular pond snail. Unfortunately, I lost the strain. I believe it was harvested by one of those dastardly puffer keepers who come in looking for free snails. Puffers do like snails. And puffer keepers do like free snails. We let puffer keepers "free range" in the physa and ramshorn tanks. They pillaged these guys.
Hitchhiker Eggs.. I ordered a pack of 25 wonder bulbs from Chicago. Due to time constraints, I just dropped them in a tank and planted them the next day -- not noticing the three clusters of hitchhikers adhering to one of the aponogeton leaves. (Note: Don't bury your Aponogeton bulbs. They grow better when only the roots are in the gravel. They will prosper even when left floating in your tank.)
So Where Do Pond Snails Come from? Would you believe ponds? They grow wild (but not too wild) in Iowa (we're a bit on the tame side). However, no one goes out in the wilds of Iowa in search of pond snails. And very few aquarium keepers in Iowa care to purchase them (certainly not puffer keepers). Most pretty much depend upon the vagaries of fate Like the egg blobs in the picture above. Each blob contains a couple dozen potential little physas. That's one reason these guys can rapidly overrun your tank.
What Do Physas Eat? Most sources say pond snails eat algae. But I've found lots of them in algae-covered tanks. I think they eat mostly fish food. Aquarists that overfeed their fish can thank their pond snails for saving their fishes lives. Without the snails they would have cloudy water at best and toxic water at worst. Feed lots of extra food and you'll soon see lots of snails. Physas will also eat dead fish, some vegetables (especially zucchini), feeder blocks, and your aquatic plants.
Feeder Blocks? You betcha. Most feeder blocks are held together with plaster (main ingredient lime -- calcium carbonate). Physa shells need lots of lime. Hard water helps, but feeder blocks mainline the lime. Most snail fans recommend offering them a cuttlebone or crushed coral. Feeder blocks taste better than squid bones.
Shell Musings. Mucho calcium goes into shell production Pond snails get their calcium from their various foods including algae (especially diatoms). They utilize it by adding to the insides of their shell. They cannot repair external dissolved patches. Low pH will eventually dissolve their shells. Feeder blocks will especially help newly hatched snails. Small snails need calcium the most to build their shells. When capturing a pond snail to extricate it or whatever, you'll notice that the little guys (about 1/4 inch size) have very fragile shells. You need good manual dexterity to extricate the little ones without crushing their shells. Once they grow to a massive 1/2 inch, they have easier-to-handle tougher shells.
Surface Sailors. Smaller pond snails can sail across the top of your aquarium -- not above the water but just under the surface -- hanging upside down. You'll notice this sometimes when you have flake foods floating on the surface. If your water is turbulent or has a fast current, you're less likely to see this behavior. You might also want to know that they inhale oxygen at the surface.
Do They Eat Algae? Pond snails reputedly eat algae. Not so much. See below.
Do Pond Snails Eat Plants? Yes.
How Do You Get Rid of Snails? Forget those snail killers in a bottle. They usually just stun pond snails. And if they do kill them, you need to vacuum their little carcasses out before they pollute your aquarium. Then cut back on the excess food you were feeding your fish. Crushing your snails works better than the commercial poisons. The little guys you can crush with your bare hands. The larger ones not so much. They slice your fingers. Use the rubber handle of a screwdriver. If you use a plastic handle, some of the snails sorta slide (whoa, inadvertent alliteration) out of your deadly "crushing machine."
Plenty More Where They Came From. Pond snails stick their tiny transparent egg blobs everywhere -- often where you can't see them (even when you're looking for them). Maybe their egg blobs aren't actually tiny when you compare them to the size of the snail laying the eggs? The blobs must expand when released into the water.
PS: Our lab specimens began laying eggs within three days of when I started feeding them flake food. All these egg blobs hatched in under a week at 78 degrees Fahrenheit -- some in less than four days. This gives them a running start on overrunning your tank.
Last Words. Pond snails make good tank mates. They eat all that extra food you sprinkle in your tank to give your fish an extra little treat. If you do cut back on some of your pond snails, be sure to cut back on some of your fish food at the same time. The best snail eater on the market? The clown loach. See Loach Clown for more info. Some of the other loaches have similar snail-eating skills. The clown loach is the most skilled and definitely the most attractive. Cichlids eat snails, too, but they also like to re-arrange your aquascaping. LA
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