Mystery Snail Care Guide: Everything You Need To Know

Snails are some of the most helpful invertebrates.

These voracious little mollusks are excellent for cleaning up problematic algae.

The Mystery Snail in particular is one of the best algae eaters around.

You can find them with lots of different colors on their shells and bodies. Their size makes them safer for community tanks than other, smaller snails.

While most aquarium snails are quite boring this one is known for their amusing behavior. They can jump, climb, float, and glide along your aquarium glass.

There is so much that this fascinating little gastropod can do. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the Mystery Snail…

Mystery Snail Overview

Mystery Snail

The Mystery Snail (Pomacea bridgesii) is a freshwater snail from South America.

They are often referred to as either the Apple Snail or the Spiketop Apple Snail.

These snails belong to the Ampullaria family, which includes all species known as Apple Snails, and can be found in freshwater and brackish habitats from Brazil through to Paraguay.

They are mainly kept as algae cleaners and can eat some of the hardest types of algae to manage, including hair algae and the dreaded black beard algae. In addition to algae they will also eat detritus and decaying plants.

You can find them in brown or black, but other Mystery Snails can be blue, green, gold, or even pink.

Expect to pay around $3 per snail, with some rare color morphs costing between $4 and $6.

Key Facts:

  • Experience Required: None.
  • Nicknames: Apple Snail, Spiketop Apple Snail.
  • Color Forms: Various.
  • Size: 2 inches.
  • Tank Size: 5+ gallon.
  • Tank Temperature: 68-84°F.
Pros

  • Fantastic algae cleaner
  • Not susceptible to diseases
  • Compatible with most freshwater fish
  • Affordable
  • Come in a variety of colors
Cons

  • One year lifespan
  • Sensitive to acidic pH
  • Dries out quickly when exposed to air
  • Susceptible to metal poisoning

Appearance and Anatomy

Pomacea bridgesii

The first thing you will notice about Mystery Snails is their colorful shell.

It is nearly perfectly round and sits at about 2 inches high at its highest point. They have 3 or 4 spiral whorls that lead to a protruding spire. The most common shell colors are brown, black, and yellow. But many other colors are possible, including blue, ivory, gold, purple, and pink.

Their body can come in many different colors too. The most common are brown and yellow, but it may also be orange, red, pink, blue, or olive green.

On their shell you will find an aperture, or opening, and a trapdoor like structure called the operculum. Opening and closing the operculum lets them hide inside their shell when they feel scared.

They have a muscular foot on their underside which expands and contracts to move across the substrate and other hard surfaces. Mystery Snails can use this foot to drag, slide, glide, and climb.

Their head has a pair of eyes and two pairs of tentacles. Their eyes are blind and can only detect light, so the tentacles are used to sense pressure and vibration. Their gills are found near the longest pair of tentacles, just above the eyes. They include a small tube called a siphon which is used to take in dry air at the surface.

Mystery Snails reach about 2 inches in size, from their foot to the highest point of their shell.

Although most snails are hermaphrodites, this is one of the few species that has 2 distinct genders.

You can tell the difference by looking underneath the shell. Males have a small bump on the right side of their body underneath the shell, whereas females have a small hole in the same spot.

Color Morphs

  • Blue: This mystical looking morph features an inky blue body with a blue shell to match. The shell can come in shades from powder blue to navy. The deep blue body color is visible through a light colored shell.
  • Brown: Brown is one of the two colors that you would find on a wild specimen. They have a brown body with a brown or faded yellow shell.
  • Purple: This is one of the most unique colors you can find on any snail. These snails can have solid purple shells, or else they can be purple with white or pink bands. Some purple snail shells have orange or red spires too.
  • Ivory: The ivory morph has a pearly white shell that fades to grey at the tip of the spire. Their body can be white, yellow, or orange.
  • Black: This is one of the most common colors and is found both in the wild and in captivity. These snails have a black or brown body with a glossy black shell. They are one of the easiest color morphs to find so they are recommended for those who are new to the species.
  • Olive: These snails have olive green bodies with pale yellow shells. The shell is translucent near the spire which lets the color of their body shine through.
  • Gold: This morph has a golden yellow shell and a bright yellow body. The shell can be solid colored or banded with various shades of yellow and gold.
  • Magenta: Out of all of the possible color morphs, magenta is one of the most mesmerizing. Magenta snails have pink banded shells with white or orange bodies.

Habitat and Tank Conditions

Mystery Snail On Substrate

Mystery Snails live in freshwater and brackish habitats throughout South America.

They can be found in the shallow water areas of the river where they can surface for air when they need to. Most of the time they stay at the sandy river bottom.

These rivers usually have lots of algae and vegetation.

They have a neutral pH, very minimal flow, and a water temperature above 70°F. While Mystery Snails can handle seasonal changes in water temperature, they cannot survive in temperatures below 50°F.

Tank Set Up and Water Parameters

Your Mystery Snails will each need 5 gallons.

Ten gallons is good for a pair and a 30 gallon tank is perfect for six Mystery Snails.

The temperature should range from 68 to 84°F and the pH must be above 7.0 to avoid damage to the snail’s shell. The ideal range is 7.5 to 8.5 and the water hardness should be from 12 to 18 dGH.

Your substrate must be smooth enough to avoid injuring the snail but not so soft or thick so they cannot easily move around. Calcium based sand will help keep your snail’s shell strong.

Make sure not to fill the tank all the way up to the surface and provide objects for your snail to climb up on for fresh air. These snails love bubbles too so even if you do not use a bubble filter, you should add a bubble tube or an air stone to provide some extra enrichment.

You will need to grow a bit of algae in your tank before your snail moves in. Algae will grow naturally over rocks, logs, and other surfaces in your tank. You can also put in a few pre-grown Marimo moss balls. Once you notice a fine layer of green in your tank you are ready to let your snail settle in.

Plants are just as important as algae.

Anubias, Water Wisteria, Java Ferns, and Pellia Moss will grow a fine accumulation of algae over their leaves and shoots.

Tank Parameter Requirement
Minimum Tank Size 5 Gallons
Tank Type Freshwater Planted
Temperature 68-84°F
pH 7.5-8.5
Hardness 12-18 dGH
Flow Light
Substrate Calcium based sand

What Size Aquarium Do They Need?

Each Mystery Snail will need 5 gallons of water.

For example a 20 gallon tank can hold up to 4 Mystery Snails.

Mystery Snail Tank Mates

Mystery Snails with Fish

Mystery Snails are excellent algae cleaners for community tanks. They tend to ignore fish and other invertebrates, but they are very social with their own kind.

However, just remember that they have no defence against aggressive or predatory tank mates.

You need to pick tank mates that are willing to leave them alone.

The following make great tank mates:

They can also be kept with just about any small, schooling Nano fish.

You should avoid keeping them with any predatory fish, such as the Bichir or Arowana.

Cichlids are notorious snail eaters too so it is better not to take a chance with any of them.

Keep away from Clown Loaches and large Catfish for the same reason.

While most other invertebrates are safe, crabs and crayfish are certainly something to avoid. These fierce little predators will attack and eat just about anything they find.

Keeping Mystery Snails Together

You can keep as many Mystery Snails as you want in the same tank.

Just make sure there are 5 gallons available for each one.

When kept in a group they will engage in some fascinating social behaviors. For instance, a group of snails will congregate in the same feeding spot and share their food. You might also catch them hitching rides on one-another’s shells for an easy lift from one end of the tank to the other.

A group of snails will be much more efficient at algae cleaning than just one. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you keep more than one Mystery Snail.

Mystery Snail Care Guide

Mystery Snails are quite healthy and do not have any particularly demanding care requirements.

The most important thing to remember is to keep copper, zinc, and other metals out of the tank.

These metals are often introduced in fertilizers or medications for your fish but they are toxic to Snails even in very small amounts.

The other key thing to know is about their shell.

If their shell is damaged they cannot just move into a new one. Keeping their shell in good shape is very important to the Snail’s general health.

Calcium is necessary for a healthy shell so you should add calcium supplements to your water. You can also crush a few shells into your substrate to add more calcium. Shells can become brittle if there is a calcium deficiency or if the water is too acidic. Make sure that your pH stays above 7.0.

How To Tell If A Mystery Snail Is Dead

It can be panic inducing to find your Mystery Snail lying stiff at the bottom of the tank. However, this does not necessarily mean they are dead.

If your snail is not moving then they are more likely to be asleep than dead.

For a foolproof way to tell if a snail is dead or alive, pick them up gently and turn them over. If the operculum is lodged open or has fallen off, your snail has unfortunately passed away. A live snail will hide inside of their shell when they are picked up so they are likely dead if they stay stiff when you handle them.

Lifespan

Mystery Snails have a lifespan of around 1 year.

There are some misconceptions that this snail can live for up to 2 years in a high quality tank. Unfortunately, no matter how well you care for them they will not live for longer than a year.

To help them live as long as possible you should make sure they are not exposed to copper, zinc, cadmium, or any other metals. Also try not to allow your snail to breed too often. Too much breeding can be taxing on their small body and will shorten their lifespan and quality of life.

Diet

In the wild Mystery Snails eat pretty much every type of algae they can find including particulate algae and phytoplankton.

They will also snack on fallen leaves, carrion, and detritus.

In your aquarium the naturally occurring algae will make up most of their diet. This can be supplemented with Marimo Balls and cultivated algae beds.

This is really all that they will need.

If they do not have enough naturally occurring algae then you can give them algae wafers and bottom feeder pellets. Calcium supplements should be given to encourage healthy shell development too.

Your snail does not need to be fed every day, or even every other day. They can get by on 2 to 3 outside feedings a week, and will spend the rest of the time scavenging for food in your tank. If the algae is low in your aquarium, you can offer outside foods up to 4 times a week and let your snail fast for the remaining days.

All foods should be given during your Mystery Snail’s active hours after sundown.

Here is everything that you can feed them:

  • Plant material
  • Detritus
  • Carrion
  • Algae wafers
  • Bottom feeder pellets
  • Marimo moss balls
  • Calcium supplements
  • Cucumbers
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Zucchini

Behavior

You might expect a snail to be slow and boring, but the Mystery Snail is anything but.

They are active during the hours after sundown and will spend their time exploring the tank for tasty things to eat.

You will find them at any level of the tank, as they love to climb and will periodically move to the shallow areas to surface for air.

They are surprisingly acrobatic too!

Mystery Snails can float and glide by riding the currents generated by your filter. They can skate across the aquarium glass by using their foot to climb up or down. When they reach a high point in your tank they can get back to the bottom by releasing their grip and slowly sinking back down.

Overall they are very peaceful and will ignore the fish and other invertebrates in your tank. They will engage in communal feeding, play, and communication with their own kind.

Breeding Mystery Snails

These snails will breed on their own.

If you have a mixed gender group then you might notice a few clusters of eggs floating along the surface of the water. There is no need to change the tank conditions or alter their diet to get them to breed. If you keep them in a community tank then the eggs might be eaten by your fish.

To be safe you should use a breeding tank.

A good breeding tank will be full of algae for the parents and the larvae to eat. It should include a few floating plants to shelter the eggs at the surface.

When your female is ready to breed her shell will turn pale and the color of the male’s shell will darken.

He will climb on top of the female to copulate.

The female will lay up to 200 eggs on the surface of the water. These eggs will be stuck together in a hive-like formation.

What do mystery snail eggs look like?

When freshly laid Mystery Snail eggs look like tiny pink bubbles stuck together in a hive at the surface of the water. After a day or two the eggs will turn from pink to white. They will remain this color for the next 2 weeks until they are ready to hatch.

Fertile eggs will develop a brown spot in the center. This is the fully developed larvae about to emerge.

It can take up to 2 weeks for the eggs to hatch.

Once they hatch the larvae will settle down at the bottom of the tank. They will immediately begin to hunt for particulate algae to eat. Unless your tank is low on algae, you will not need to offer any extra food to the larvae.

Just make sure to add some extra calcium to the water so that their shells develop properly.

History and First Sighting

The Mystery Snail was first discovered by Lowell Reeve in 1856 and classified as Ampullaria bridgesii.

Later that year they were reclassified as Pomacea bridgesii, under the Pomacea genus, along with many other snails in the Ampullariidae family.

The exact date of their introduction to the aquarium hobby is unknown, but by the 1950s they were starting to establish themselves. Between the 1950s and 1960s, their popularity flourished in the United States.

By the 1960s spectacular color varieties began to appear.

In the 1990s P. bridgesii became the most popular species of Apple Snail. To this day, they are still what most hobbyists and retailers refer to when they mention an Apple Snail.

Mystery Snail vs Apple Snail

Mystery Snails are often called Apple Snails and the terms are used interchangeably.

However, Apple Snail technically refers to every snail species in the Ampullariidae family. These include Giant Ramshorn Snails, Florida Apple Snails, and Mexican Apple Snails.

So a Mystery Snail is actually a type of Apple Snail.

If you have an Apple Snail and are wondering if they are a Mystery Snail then take a look at their shell.

Pomacea bridgesii have a very distinct round apple shape that gets wider as it reaches the aperture. The shell will have up to 4 whorls with a small spire that protrudes outward from the center. Above all, it should stand at 2 inches high from the foot to the highest point of the shell.

Species Summary Table

Mystery Snail
Other Common Names: Apple Snail and Spiketop Apple Snail
Scientific Name: Pomacea bridgesii
Family Name: Ampullariidae
Distribution: South America
Size: 2 inches
Color: Various
Care Level: Easy
Temperament: Peaceful
Lifespan: 1 Year
Minimum Tank Size: 5 Gallons
Tank Mate Compatibility: Peaceful community fish and invertebrates

Summary

The Mystery Snail is one of the healthiest invertebrates around and makes a great pick for hobbyists of any skill level.

Not only are they excellent algae cleaners but they are also one of the most entertaining invertebrates that you can keep.

With so many different colors available they can decorate the bottom of the tank in a truly unique way.

This snail can make a good pet on their own, even without adding any fish to the tank. However, their true calling is as a custodian in a community tank.

Have you ever seen a Mystery Snail do something unusual?

Let us know in the comments section below…

David Thomas Author Bio Picture
David Thomas leads the team at Everything Fishkeeping as the Editor-in-Chief. David has been keeping fish since he was a child. In his first tank he kept goldfish and since then he has kept over 30 different species. Now he has 4 separate tanks and his favorite is a 100 gallon freshwater tank with a school of Rasboras, Tetras and Loaches.