Loved by some—and despised by others—Malaysian trumpet snails (Melanoides tuberculata) are commonplace in the freshwater aquaria scene. Due to their hardy nature, burrowing tendencies, and the swift pace at which these R-strategists breed, they are capable of completely overwhelming a tank under certain conditions. That considered, a properly managed population of MTS has the potential to be an invaluable clean-up crew. This care sheet is intended to teach aquarists the specifics of MTS care. More general care suggestions and tips such as how to do water changes, how to dechlorinate water, and how to clean aquariums are available on the AquariumKids website.
MTS are freshwater aquatic snails of the genus Melanoides. Like rabbit snails, they have conical, spiral shells that come in beige, brown, and even grey colors often marked with patterns. They range in size from a few millimeters as babies to up to 3/4 of an inch as mature adults. The body of MTS are brownish and speckled with yellow or green spots.
MTS are extremely hardy and can live in virtually any freshwater aquatic environment, provided that the water is hard enough to allow them to build their calciferous shells. They can also live in brackish water and thrive in water between 65–89℉ (source: USGS.gov). Personally, I have kept this species in a 29-gallon community tank (with least killifish and other snails as tank mates), as well as a ~2.5-gallon enclosed container for nearly nine consecutive months to date. During this time, I have not performed any water changes, nor have I fed them (they eat algae and decaying plant matter). The tank also has zero gas exchange with the atmosphere other than a small amount of air trapped in the top of the container, and temperatures have ranged from 60–80℉ (the container is in direct sunlight for a few hours per day during the summer). According to Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, MTS can also “tolerate desiccation for up to 8 days.” Clearly, they are quite a versatile species.
Given how undemanding MTS are in terms of tank requirements, most aquarists do not purchase tanks with the sole intent of keeping MTS. Oftentimes, MTS are kept with other aquatic species as secondary tank inhabitants as opposed to being kept as showcase animals. As MTS are not a predatory species, MTS do not pose a threat to most potential tank mates. Species that share similar water parameter requirements are generally suitable tank mates for MTS, but there are a few notable exceptions. MTS should not be kept with species such as loaches and assassin snails, which are known to target and feed on snails. Furthermore, their hard shells can potentially pose a threat to certain fish such as goldfish that may accidentally swallow them while foraging through the substrate. In general, though, MTS thrive in community tanks.
Generalists at heart, MTS are not picky eaters. The exact feeding regimen of MTS varies depending upon the tank in which they live as well as the tank mates with which they live. In a community tank, they are likely to eat leftover food as well as decaying plant matter and algae. In order to supplement their diet, some use cucumber, squash, or other boiled vegetables. Personally, I do not put anything into my main tank with the primary intent of feeding my MTS—they simply scavenge for whatever they can find. I often see them enjoying Tetra's PlecoWafers (affiliate link via Amazon Influencer program), though. This is likely because my fish do not consume the wafers as quickly as they consume pellets and other food items, allowing MTS time to navigate to the food before it disappears. My MTS in my enclosed ecosystem tank feed on plants and algae.
MTS are notoriously easy to breed and will do so quite prolifically. In my experience, overfeeding and warm temperatures both appear to increase their rate of breeding; limiting excess food and debris can prevent their populations from exploding too quickly. For reference, there are probably only around twenty MTS in my enclosed ecosystem, but far more in my main tank due to the abundance of food there.
MTS are ovoviviparous and give birth to live young as opposed to laying eggs as many other snails do. These young are capable of caring for themselves immediately after birth. Females can reproduce parthenogenetically (without the involvement of a male) or sexually, with male involvement. Thus, it is possible for an entire population of MTS to be entirely female. It is likely that this ability of a single female snail to procreate, as well as the fact that many species of snails are hermaphroditic (having both female and male sex organs), led to the mistaken belief that MTS are hermaphroditic. In actuality, this species is not hermaphroditic.
Because they are snails, MTS do not swim through the water column; rather, their range is restricted to the substrate, tank walls, and anything on which they are capable of climbing. During the daytime, these nocturnal animals can generally be found burrowed beneath the substrate. This constant mixing of the substrate due to their movements can help keep the substrate aerated, promoting plant growth and preventing the establishment of populations of harmful anaerobic bacteria. During the night (or when they sense that food has been introduced to the tank), they are more active and inclined to explore their enclosure (though many of them will still stay buried underneath the substrate). When I turn on my aquarium's lights in the morning, there are usually a number of MTS clinging to the glass walls of my aquarium.
Although MTS do climb the tank walls, my personal experience shows that MTS are less inclined to completely climb out of their enclosures compared to other species such as nerite snails. Thus, a tank cover to prevent them from crawling out is not necessary (although it certainly can't hurt).
Sudden movements in the water column and changes in light cause MTS to retreat inside their shells, closing their openings with their opercula. This reaction protects them from potential predators in the wild because their flesh is shielded by their solid shells from attack. Occasionally, my MTS that are climbing on the tank walls will close their opercula and drop off of the wall, falling to the substrate during larger disturbances such as water changes. In the video below, note the partially-closed opercula of the snails on the right. In order to shoot the video, I had removed them from their main aquarium and transferred them to a separate container. They retreated inside their shells when I picked them up, and they began to emerge again after approximately one minute. The snail on the left emerged fastest, and it was already beginning to explore its new enclosure in search of food.
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Thank you for reading this short care sheet on Malaysian trumpet snails (published 1/29/19)! For more information, please browse around AquariumKids.com. Feel free to contact me at evanb [at] aquariumkids [dot] com or to leave a comment below with any questions :)
Note: this care sheet was written for my AP English Language and Composition class as a sample of process analysis-style writing. Thus, the general format and writing style of this piece will deviate slightly from AquariumKids's normal care sheet style.