What Causes Snails to Die in a Saltwater Tank?

If you’re thinking about getting snails for your aquarium or there’s a horrid smell from your current snail, knowing what causes snails to die in a saltwater tank will be the key to keeping them alive. 

What causes snails to die?

There are many things that can cause a snail to die.  Most often, it’s because it’s stressed from changes in the water.  Fluxes in temperature, pH, or a dirty tank will stress out a snail and may cause it to die.  There are some other possible causes too, like predation, poisoning, age, and diet.

Water Parameters

A dirty tank is the number one cause of snail deaths.  High levels of nitrate, ammonia, and nitrite are a sure killer.  These levels will also affect the water’s pH balance. 

The levels should read as follows:

  • Nitrite and ammonia – 0ppm
  • pH balance – 8 and 8.4
  • Water temperature – 72°F to 84°F

The best way to ensure levels stay appropriate to your snail is to get a meter or a liquid test kit and read the water daily.  When you notice spikes in chemical levels, it’s time to change the water. 

Poisoning & Predation

A snail can experience copper poisoning from fertilizer or antibiotics for other fish.  The fish they’re housed with will also impact a snail’s life span.  Avoid keeping your snails with aggressive fish or other aquatic creatures that eat snails.

Diet & Age

Food can be another problem for snails.  Yes, it’s true they eat algae, fish food remnants, and live plants.  But they need additional nutrition too.  You can do this with blanched vegetables like green zucchini or iceberg lettuce.

Aging is a cause of death for any living creature and some snails don’t live much longer than a year.  So there’s not much you can do when this happens. 

Do snails die easily?

Snails are very hardy creatures and their shell protects them from a lot of danger, so in that sense, they don’t die easily.  But, because they age quickly and get stuck upside down often, they do die with frequency.  If their tank water or diet is inadequate, it won’t take much for them to die.

How do you save a dying snail?

If you notice your snail dying, remove it from the tank and put it in a quarantine tank for monitoring.  Make sure the water parameters are pristine, being tedious and tenacious about checking levels.  Also, give them algae flakes and blanched vegetables to ensure they get enough nutrients.

But, sometimes they flip themselves over and get stuck.  This can cause them to start dying because they can’t eat or do the other things.  The species will determine what kind of help they might require:

  • Astrea Snails: These are famous for dying after climbing and falling.  Keep them right side up at all times to prevent them from dying young. 
  • Cerith Snails: There are many different types of Cerith. These snails will climb surfaces or out of water.  Others will bury themselves in the substrate. Their cone-shaped body prevents them from getting stuck, but if you have rocky terrain, it can happen.  Flip it over if you think it’s in trouble. 
  • Conchs: This is a large species, so their variety will determine how you can help.  They don’t usually flip over because they like to bury themselves in or on the substrate.  Some have heavy or decorative shells that prevent their movement, especially if they get stuck.  But, most varieties can use their muscular foot without too many problems. Read more about Strawberry Conch.
  • Margarita Snails: These glass climbers will flip over on their own, but if there’s a poor substrate, they will find this next to impossible to do. 
  • Nassarius Snails:  These snails have no problems flipping themselves because it’s rare for them to leave the substrate.  They’re very agile with a nimble, long foot.  Nassarius snails are “break dancers” because of how they spin their foot around until they can latch onto something or until the momentum forces them to flip over. 
  • Nerite Snails: Nerite snails will attach well to any surface and don’t often require help flipping back over.  The problem with these is that they’ll climb out of the tank, which will cause them to die if you don’t catch them soon enough. 
  • Trochus Snails:  These pyramid-like snails can right themselves with great ease.  Because of their shape, you shouldn’t have to help them flip back over and it’s not common for them to climb out of their tanks.
  • Turbo Snails:  Most Turbo snails struggle when they get turned over, but some varieties can flip themselves. These often end up on their backs because of how they like to climb the sides of a tank.  So, they fall easily and frequently when startled. Their shells make them top-heavy and it can be disastrous if they fall into the substrate or open sand

How do you identify a dead snail?

If you think your snail is dead, you have to examine it.  If there’s a horrid odor coming from its shell, the snail is dead.  You can also use a gentle touch on its muscular foot a few times to see if it moves.  If the body hangs out of the shell or doesn’t move, then your snail has passed away.

Should I remove dead snails from my aquarium?

Yes, the moment you notice a dead snail, remove it right away.  Decomposition will contaminate the tank for its other inhabitants.  When in doubt, change the water to ensure the parameters stay at prime levels.  If you catch the death of the snail early enough, only a partial change will be necessary.

In Summary

Snails are a very beautiful and helpful addition to any saltwater aquarium.  As long as they have everything they need in diet and living conditions, they’ll remove algae and other debris.  So, understanding what they require and how to prevent their death is imperative.